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Young doctors are hesitant to call in sick, a study says

By Lindsey Tanner
Associated Press / September 15, 2010

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CHICAGO — Junior doctors quickly learn that exposure to patients’ germs is part of the job, but a study suggests many are returning the favor. More than half of doctors in training said in a survey that they had shown up sick to work.

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

Dr. Anupam Jena, a medical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, 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.

Jena, a study coauthor, said getting someone else to take over his shift on short notice “was not worth the cost of working while a bit sick.’’ He was not among the survey participants.

The researchers analyzed an anonymous survey of 537 medical residents at 12 unidentified hospitals around the country conducted last year by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

The results appear in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. Nearly 58 percent of the respondents said they had worked at least once while sick and 31 percent said they had worked more than once while sick in the previous year.

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

A growing push to require flu shots for health workers also could help reduce the number of doctors who work while sick.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu vaccinations for all health care workers.

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