Hacking, febrile or racked with the sequelae of chronic illnesses, doctors who are sick have continued for generations to see their patients. Although published reports for over a decade have linked patient illnesses like the flu, whooping cough and resistant bacterial infections to sick health care workers, as many as 80 percent of physicians continue to work through their own ailments, even though they would have excused patients in the same condition.
For many doctors and other health care professionals, such self-sacrifice is proof of their dedication and professionalism. Moreover, in what are often precariously balanced hospitals and practices, one individual’s absence can inflict tremendous stress upon others. Overstretched colleagues are forced to shoulder additional clinical responsibilities, supervisors must solve impossible staffing challenges and, worst of all, patients are left with inadequate care.