Intended for healthcare professionals


Why doctors don’t take sick leave

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 09 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6719
  1. Kathy Oxtoby, freelance journalist
  1. kathyoxtoby{at}

Doctors seem reluctant to take time off when unwell. Kathy Oxtoby considers the reasons

Doctors are much less likely than other healthcare workers to take days off sick, with official figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showing that they take a third as many sick days as other NHS staff and a fifth the number taken by healthcare assistants and ambulance staff.1

It may be that doctors are less prone to becoming ill, rather than being less likely to take sick leave when ill. The high socioeconomic status of doctors might put them at lower risk of illness, and perhaps their frequent exposure to common colds and viruses helps their immune systems to resist illness.

But Keith Hopcroft, a GP in Essex, says that there is a culture in medicine of not taking time off when sick. “Battling on through illness and not letting the side down has traditionally been seen as an attribute—and …

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