27th January 2017, Volume 130 Number 1449

Charlotte Chambers, Chris Frampton, Murray Barclay

Presenteeism, or working when too unwell, fatigued or stressed to be at work, can have serious consequences. Presenteeism is likely to influence the safety and well-being of both patients and…

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Senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand’s public hospitals are routinely going to work when they are ill. This suggests that doctors and dentists are forcing themselves to go into work, often to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing let alone that of their patients, because of the immense pressure that they are under to keep the public health system functioning.



To estimate rates of presenteeism in the New Zealand senior medical workforce and identify reasons why this workforce feels pressured to work through illness.


A cross-sectional survey was returned by 1,806/3,740 publically employed senior doctors and dentists (48%). Relationships between rates of presenteeism, sick leave and demographic factors were explored alongside views on cultural and professional norms.


Presenteeism was reported by 88% of respondents. Women and younger doctors had highest rates of presenteeism. Reasons for presenteeism included difficulties accessing short-term sickness cover and concern for the impact of sick leave on patients as well as sociocultural norms.


Presenteeism is a widespread behavioural norm in this medical workforce. Choosing whether to work through illness reflects the high value placed on duty of care, but also tensions around defining responsible behaviour in this regard.

Author Information

Charlotte Chambers, The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, Wellington; Chris Frampton, Biostatistician, Faculty of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch; Murray Barclay, Clinical Professor, University of Otago, Christchurch.


Dr Charlotte Chambers, The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, PO Box 10763, Wellington 6143.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



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