It’s the ultimate Catch 22. A conundrum that has no easy answer (hence, the use of the word: conundrum). But it is certainly a hot-button issue that must be addressed.
Should you go to work when you are sick?
For the majority of people in this world, going to work when they have a minor illness is left to each individual. If they come in to work when experiencing symptoms of the flu or a bad cold, they risk infecting coworkers. If they stay home, they risk being docked pay or running out of sick/vacation days.
But what if you’re a nurse, responsible for caring the wellbeing of patients? Is it worth the risk of infecting a patient to fulfill your job duties?
According to a recent survey conducted at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, More than 95% of healthcare workers believed that working while they were sick, indeed, put patients at risk. Despite this, 83% said they had come to work with symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and upper respiratory issues. Details of this survey are found in this Medscape article.
So what is the correct answer?
When a nurse is struck with any contagious illness, one would think the obvious answer would be that she/he stays home. Why would a nurse willingly enter a patient’s room when they themselves are sick? But scores of nurses show up to work every day when they are ill, risking infecting their patients. Why does this happen?
- You are scheduled on a shift or to be in the office. If you don’t show up, your patients, other nurses, medical assistants and, of course, the patients, will be forced to adjust. This can greatly impact continuity and quality of care. And in some cases, for instance in a cardiac care unit, this can mean that patients may not receive an appropriate level of care if the floor is expected to work short staffed.
- You feel that you are the best person for the job – sick or not. Often this is the ego talking, but sometimes it is actually true. For RNs in a hospital setting, patients can become accustomed to your style. They may also feel a certain level of earned trust with you. This translates into greater care for them.
- Your place of employment offers you a limited number of sick days. If you extend beyond the allotted number of sick days – perhaps because of an unexpected surgery – you may have to take sick time off without pay.
- You feel pressured by your peers to “power through.” Taking time off to recuperate at home can be viewed by some as a weakness.
To work when sick is a very important decision and one that must be weighed carefully. Perhaps the most important question is: “What will have the greatest and most positive impact on my patients – me staying home or coming to work and putting them at risk of catching my illness?” Ponder that for a time.
If you liked this article or found it helpful, share it with your colleages.