When you’re used to taking care of sick patients, it can sometimes be uncomfortable (and not in the headaches and fever way) to be the one who needs to take time to heal. Whether the worst of the flu season hits your home or you’re stuck in bed with a pounding migraine, calling in sick as a nurse can make you feel even worse. No one wants to leave their unit short-staffed, which is why many nurses will tread to work even when sick, but that’s not the way to go. It’s not only unsafe for your own health to try to handle a 12-hour shift when your throat feels like your swallowing razor blades, but you’re putting your patients and coworkers at risk as well.
The Dangers Of Going To Work Sick
As a nurse, when you go to work sick, you’re not as productive as normal. Part of that decreased efficiency means you’re not as attentive to what you’re doing, creating an environment to give a patient the wrong medication or dosage. Then there’s the obvious: you’re putting everyone else at risk to become sick
In addition, there are some patients whose very life could be altered severely by even the common cold. Transplant patients, oncology patients, the neonatal population, and patients with compromised immune systems are put in extreme danger if their nurse comes to work sick.
Why Do Nurses Work When Sick?
There are a few reasons nurses come to work when battling a fever, stomach issues, or respiratory symptoms.
- Guilt: Nurses commonly feel guilty about calling into work sick, afraid they will leave the team short-staffed.
- No time off: With some organizations, a nurse must work three or six months to gain access to benefits, forcing them to come to work even when sick.
- Refusal to take PTO: Even when they know it would be a better move to rest in bed, some nurses don’t want to give up their time off.
Some organizations combine sick time and vacation time, so nurses must decide whether they’re rather rest while sick or save their time for an upcoming vacation.
The Guilt Trip
Nurses do not want to force the shift leader to try to find fill-in coverage which motivates them to go to work when sick. In addition, they don’t want their unit to be burdened with additional patients and shift work because of their cold.
Questionable Sick Call Policies
Many nursing units have policies in place that can be intimidating and act as a punishment for nurses who call in sick. Some policies include:
- Calling in sick during a weekend shift means you are mandated to makeup another weekend shift chosen by the nurse manager.
- Calling in sick the day before or day after a scheduled vacation means you forfeit your paid days off.
- Calling in sick multiple times prompts an attendance review meeting with a manager.
Even when knowing going to work sick is detrimental to the unit and the nurse herself, many still do it. Working while sick will prolong the illness, so nurses should take their own advice and rest.