Being a doctor isn't a particularly healthy profession. Physicians and other healthcare workers face a wide variety of workplace hazards. As a matter of fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the healthcare industry has one of the highest rates of work-related diseases and injuries of all industry segments. Doctors face everything from needle stick infections to pulling back muscles and being exposed to hazardous chemicals.
Doctors face biological hazards from exposure to diseases transmitted by patients. These exposures usually occur in one of three ways – by contact, by droplet or by airborne transmission. Contact transmission of diseases can occur by direct contact with the infected patient or by contact with a contaminated surface. Droplet transmission can occur when an infected patient sneezes or coughs, causing the contaminants to come into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. Airborne transmission is similar to droplet, but the droplets are so small that they remain suspended in the air for longer periods of time, and are inhaled later. It’s important to follow all protocols in the use of personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and gowns, when dealing with an infectious patient.
Chemical hazards include exposure to substances found in cleaning and equipment disinfectants, waste anesthetic gases and even smoke from laser or electric surgical procedures. You can also be exposed to chemical hazards through chemotherapy, hormonal, antiviral and immunosuppressive drugs, which can cause adverse reactions.
Physical hazards for doctors most often manifest themselves as musculoskeletal injuries, usually caused by constantly lifting and handling patients. According to the Occupational Safety & Heath Administration, in 2010, 249 out of every 10,000 healthcare workers suffered such injuries, more than seven times the average for other industries. Risk factors for doctors may not be as high as some other healthcare workers, such as aides and transporters, but it’s important to learn and practice proper lifting techniques.
Doctors and other healthcare workers are at times exposed to workplace violence. This violence can come from patients or their family members who are combative, or you might even come in contact with assaults on patients by unethical medical staff. Workplace violence can touch you in many ways, ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults from unstable patients.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."