Working While Sick? Doctors Do It Too

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Do doctors who work while sick put their patients at risk? (istockphoto)

(CBS/AP) Doctors quickly learn that exposure to patients' germs is part of the job, and a new survey suggests many are returning the favor.

Nearly 58 percent of doctors surveyed said they'd worked at least once while sick, and 31 percent said they'd worked more than once while sick in the previous year.

Misplaced dedication and fear of letting other doctors down are among reasons the researchers cited as possible explanations.

The anonymous survey included responses from 537 medical residents at 12 hospitals around the country. It was conducted last year by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Results appeared in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Anupam Jena, a medical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a co-author of the survey, developed food poisoning symptoms halfway through an overnight shift last year, but said he didn't think he was contagious or that his illness hampered his ability to take care of patients.

But Dr. Thomas Nasca, the accreditation council's CEO, said residents are trained to put patients' needs above their own but also should recognize that if they're sick, their patients would be better served by having another doctor take care of them.

Residents' hands-on postgraduate training is rigorous and demanding. Many work up to 80 hours a week and sometimes 24 hours a day in hospitals. Jena said the atmosphere in some programs is ultra-competitive, and residents may work while sick because they don't want to be seen as slackers.

Maybe slackers would be safer for patients.