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Do Doctors Get Sick Too?

by Dr.Sal MD on author

Is it true that "Doctors never get sick"? No. But we're good at hiding it. Doctors work through illness, infirmity, and inclement weather. Many times I have seen patients while sicker than they were.

One of my most embarrassing moments, was leaning over a patient to reach a blood pressure cuff when a huge gob of snot splashed down from my nose onto the exam table. We both politely pretended we each hadn't noticed the yellow Rorschach blot on the examination paper. A few years past I saw one of my colleagues rolling down the corridor in a wheelchair a couple of days after knee surgery. Standard instruction is to be off work for several weeks. But maybe that's for normal people. I've also seen colleagues come to work wearing face masks while ill to protect their patients.

When people say doctors have no empathy, I wonder if it's just that doctors wonder why other people can't suck it up like we do. While there is the chance that working with a cold might place patients at risk, the alternative scenario is typically worse - thirty or more sick patients not able to see their sick doctor. Unless you're on your last legs, it is hard to call in and have your secretary cancel out all your appointments that day. Some people have been waiting for weeks to see you.

"How Come I don't see Doctors when they're Sick?"

Most of the year, most years, most doctors are fit and fettle. It is the odd chance then that you'll see your doctor when malaised unless you're lucky to on a particular day by extreme chance, or you're a frequent flyer in the health care arena. Otherwise you're statistically disadvantaged in doing so. Another reason you may not spy sick doctors often is that we take appointments with our medical colleagues after hours to save time away from our own practices. Remember, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because you often don't see doctors sick doesn't mean we don't get as sick as dogs too - you are suffering from observational bias. From my privileged vantage seat, I see illness in docs all the time.

That cliché joke about doctors telling you to pop two aspirin and call them in the morning is actually what we do for ourselves ;)

Are Doctors Less Sick than the Average Person?

Now this question is a little different spin. Yes doctors get sick, but do they as much as the rest of the general public?

I think there is likely some truth to this loose statement and there have been some studies that show longer lifespan compared to say, lawyers. This kinda makes sense when you consider that doctors are less likely than their peers to smoke, drink to excess, use street drugs, and other body abuses by choice. Most of the doctors I know also take exercise very seriously. They may call it hiking, or badminton, or biking but they often subscribe to sports pastimes that are exercise by other names. In addition, I've always wondered if my immune system isn't fitter by my daily being inoculated by patients bringing colds in to me.

 


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