The Truth About Why Nurses Work Sick!

Nurses are licensed professionals and with that comes many responsibilities to care for patients. We make life and death decisions about the health of our patients every single day. We are the ones that assess patients regularly and make the proper critical decisions to ensure that patient outcomes are positive.  Other healthcare professionals rely on our judgment and we are highly skilled. A good nurse can be the difference between life and a hearse for many patients.

We are routinely exposed to infectious illnesses, diseases and viruses every single day. Because of this our immune systems are strong, so we are not sick that often, but when we are, it’s not tolerated by the workplace and management.  I believe more people need to be aware of this issue because it’s completely unfair to nurses.

Here’s the scenario when we do get sick:   A nurse wakes up with a scratchy throat, a cough, and fever. She feels horrible and believes that if she goes to work she’ll be infectious to her patients and fellow nurses.  So she does what she thinks is right, and she calls in sick.  She is told by her superior that if she doesn’t come in she must provide a doctor’s statement or she won’t be paid and may face disciplinary action.

So she agrees to go to work because she needs to feed her family and pay bills and she feels pressured by her boss. But it’s absurd to ask a nurse, who is relied upon for her skill and knowledge about health to seek a doctor’s opinion when she’s sick.  Although nurses know what’s wrong with every patient we are assigned to, and we are trained to think critically to catch even slight changes in a patient’s health, we aren’t capable of figuring out what’s going on when it comes to our own health? Seems a bit nuts to me.

I’ve seen nurses go to work with broken bones, or nasty infections, including pink eye; that is highly contagious. Hospital staffing problems are becoming critical again, due to the shortage of nurses. New nurses work in hospitals for a while once they graduate, but when they realize that nurse-to-patient ratios make it impossible to practice nursing safely, they quit. There’s not enough time to care for patients adequately without making serious mistakes.  They choose to move on and work in less risky environments. Nurses have a license they need to protect and cannot afford to risk losing it.

When I worked in a busy ICU several years ago, I became very sick with flu symptoms.  At the time, I was working 60-hours a week because we were so short staffed.  I was running a fever and felt awful. I called my supervisor and told her I was sick, and I would not be coming to work that day.  She said I would need to provide a doctor’s statement, and I agreed and hung up the phone. About fifteen minutes later she called back and had the audacity to ask me how sick I actually was?

You’d think that sick would mean sick.  I’m not a hypochondriac and had never called in sick before. I’m a nurse, so I think I would know whether I was too sick to go to work, without the help of a doctor, yet she had the guts to call and ask me if I could still come in, so I could make my critically ill, immune suppressed patients sick too.  Shame on her.

Many nurses are threatened when they’re sick, that they’ll need to attend a special program on “sick time abuse.”  This is insanity, and it needs to stop. Our patients deserve better, and so do we. We should be afforded the same rights as non-healthcare professional when we are sick, without fear of losing our jobs or bullying by aggressive managers.

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