Thursday, November 4, 2010

Take your own advice and stay home

Patricia Lindholm, MD,
2010-2011 MMA President
A topic of interest to me is “presenteeism” among medical students, residents and physicians.  Yes, this is the opposite of “absenteeism.”  Both conditions may be problematic.  Have you ever presented for work when you were ill?  I confess that I have committed the act of presenteeism on more than a few occasions over the course of my training and career.
Most of us have received the subtle message that illness is a sign of weakness.  Doctors cannot afford to be ill, and especially cannot afford to be absent from work.  When we are absent, our colleagues usually have to pick up our workload and may let us know that they resent it.  Some patients even try to “guilt trip” us after an absence.  Most of us realize that returning to work after any type of absence means facing a mountain of charts, mail and messages that need addressing. 
Is it good practice to work when we have an infectious illness?  Of course not.  Would we advise our patients to stay home when ill?  Of course.  However, the misguided “macho” ethic of our profession has bullied us into doing the wrong thing for ourselves, our coworkers, and especially our patients. 
Is it good practice to work when we are sleep deprived, suicidal, manic, intoxicated?  Is it heroic to work immediately postoperatively or postpartum contrary to the advice of our physicians? 
Friends, let us permit ourselves to heal when sick, recover from surgery and tend to our mental health—if not for ourselves, then for our patients.   Let us also have mercy on our students and colleagues and give them the space to care for themselves.  It is odd that we even need this type of advice, isn’t it?
“Physician heal thyself” indeed!

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