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    Many physicians work when sick, but why?


    The Patient Comes First


    Some doctors see working when sick as a sense of obligation to the patient.

    Ashlie Olp, MD, a family physician at Olp Family Medicine in Carmel, Indiana, can’t remember the last time she skipped work due to being ill, and even once after major surgery, went back to see patients earlier than expected.

    “My guess is that it’s standard across the board [with doctors], whether that’s right or wrong, we show up regardless,” she says. “Whether it was in residency or in practice, you as a doctor have this innate obligation to help people who are also sick. So, missing a day is not what you do. Your patients are sick and you need to just go into work.”

    Of course, Olp says that doctors need to consider the level of sickness when making a decision to show up to work. If it’s a stuffy nose and coughing, that’s fine, but someone with nausea or is shaking from the chills should really stay home, she says.

    “Who knows if I’d feel this way if I had another job or was in another profession,” she says.

    While it is good that physicians take their profession seriously, Mintz says it can also be harmful when physicians continue to work when they really shouldn’t. But most feel they know before it gets to that point.


    FURTHER READING: 5 ways to improve physician mental health


    “Physicians have enough knowledge to know what may be causing a particular ailment, even though they probably don't use the best judgement when it comes to themselves,” he says. “Reasoning for this often includes the thought that their immune system—having been exposed to so many viruses—is stronger than most, and they should be able to ‘stick it out.’”

    Fortunately, medical educators are recognizing that this type of behavior is problematic and are now introducing topics such as burnout, physician impairment and self-care in their curricula.”

    Some ideas for doctors faced with needing to stay home when sick are to make arrangements with a retired doc who could cover for them or coming in on a weekend to make up for lost time.

    Olp says that being a physician under the Direct Primary Care model also solves this problem, in that she can utilize telemedicine when ill, seeing patients via a computer from her home if necessary.

    “Still, I can only do some of my work remotely, not all of it,” she says. “My advice [for physicians] is to take your meds and go to work, if you can.”


    Keith Loria
    Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.

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    • [email protected]
      Perfect timing! Came down with a nasty cold yesterday 1/1/18, and though I am on call, was able to spend the day in bed. Today though got up to go to work. Would not think of calling in sick. Now, I don't have patients to see today and can take care of the inpatients remotely as a consult since I have a great team to help out. It is hard to take a day off and I am weighing the options of passing on this cold vs getting work done. I think we keep coming even when ill, if we know it will not directly affect too many people. Keeping my germs to myself and doing what I can remotely. Will try to get home early and back to bed. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine does not cover cold viruses!

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