When Should a Nurse Call in Sick?

When should a nurse call in sick

Nurses are an integral part of our healthcare system and we often forget that, despite their wonderful work, they are only human and can get sick too. But all too often, nurses may feel a sense of guilt when calling in sick and many times will avoid taking a sick day when they really should have done.

But when should a nurse call in sick?

In short, a nurse should call in sick if he or she may risk passing on an infection to another staff member or a patient or if their ability to work is compromised.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that as a nurse you are required to be fully alert and able to take care of patients.

These patients are often vulnerable and without proper care may be subject to unnecessary suffering.

See also: How Can Nurses Reduce Health Disparities?

When a nurse is not in full health or is too exhausted to deliver the standard of care that he or she usually would, it might be time to admit defeat and call in sick.

When should a nurse call in sick in the first place?

When should a nurse call in sick in the first place

In this article, we are going to take a closer look at the reasons when should a nurse call in sick, giving you a clearer picture of when to stay home.

Here are four different examples for you when should a nurse call in sick.

Infection or contagious illness

One of the primary reasons that a nurse should call in sick is if he or she is suffering from an illness that could be contagious.

Whilst the illness may only be mild – for example a cough or cold, for a critically ill patient, it could be much more serious.

In some cases, symptoms that accompany a viral infection may also be similar to those which can present with allergies or long-standing respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Working as a nurse, it is important to stay vigilant and make an educated determination as to whether your symptoms are normal for you or are a result of something like the flu.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • A blocked or runny nose
  • Coughing
  • General aches
  • Headache

If any of these symptoms present alongside a fever, it is advisable to stay home from work.

Extreme fatigue

Whilst being a nurse is often a very enjoyable and certainly rewarding job, it is also one which brings long shifts, emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue.

If a nurse is not well-rested and physically strong, he or she is prone to making mistakes at work and for this reason, should always call in sick if they feel they are overtired.

The same can be said for nurses who find that the stress of their job is causing them to feel unable to work in a manner that is effective and helpful.

Emotional problems

Emotional problems

There are times in all of our lives when emotional distress becomes a problem, our emotions make us human but in times of need, it is important to take time to recover.

See also: The 7 Ethical Principles in Nursing

This is even more important for nurses.

For nurses who are currently facing a lot of emotional distress or particularly stressful problems in their personal lives, time off work is crucial.

This will ensure that on returning to work the nurse is focused and attentive.

So when should a nurse call in sick because of emotional problems? I’d say the sooner the better.

Psychological problems and issues with mental health

There has been a certain stigma that has been wrongly attached to mental health problems, but in truth, our mental health is just as important as our physical health.

If you are a nurse and you are struggling with mental health or psychological issues, this is a perfectly legitimate reason to call in sick.

When your mind is not fully focused, there is the risk that you may make errors that you would not usually make. This could be anything from administering an incorrect dose to filling out paperwork incorrectly.

Now you know when should a nurse call in sick but why is it extremely important? That’s what I’m going to give the answer to next.

Why is it important for a nurse to call in sick?

Why is it important for a nurse to call in sick

Many nurses will push on and go into work despite meeting the criteria to call in sick.

There are many reasons that it is important for a nurse to stay home from work if they are ill or unable to do their job properly. Ignoring illness, fatigue or emotional and mental health issues can be extremely dangerous for any practicing nurse.


In an enclosed environment such as a hospital, it is much more common for germs and bacteria to spread. This is especially true when people are in close proximity to one another – such as a nurse and their patient.

If a nurse attends their place of work whilst being infected with a virus, there is a high possibility of passing it on to either their patients or other staff.

In some cases, viral infections such as the flu can be fatal, especially for patients with underlying health conditions. If other staff members were to contract the illness, there is a risk of staff shortage.

It is vital that a nurse is always performing to his or her best, however, issues with fatigue, stress, and emotional issues can cause a nurse to lose focus.

They are only human, after all.

When the focus is lost, it can be easy for a nurse to make errors within their work which can lead to problems both big and small.

For example, a tired nurse might deliver the wrong medication to a patient, which in reality could have some serious effects.

Related article: Can a Nurse Practitioner Prescribe Medication?

As a rule, the reason it is so important for a nurse to call in sick is purely down to the safety of his or her patients.

Younger patients such as newborn babies are at particular risk from infection as well as those such as the elderly and those with conditions that affect the immune system.

All patients’ safety may be compromised if a nurse is not completely alert and aware on their shift.

Conclusion: When should you call in sick as a nurse?

When a nurse is suffering from a health condition that could be passed on to patients or other staff within the working environment, he or she should call in sick and take as much time off as is needed until their health is fully restored.

In addition to this, nurses who are overtired, emotionally distressed, or struggling with mental health conditions should call in sick since these problems could affect the nurse’s ability to perform the job to the expected standard.

Now you know all about when should a nurse call in sick and why.

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About Ida Koivisto, BSN, RN, PHN

Ida is both a registered nurse and public health nurse. Her passion is to provide as much valuable information about nursing to the world as possible. In her spare time from work and blogging, Ida loves to work out at the gym and spend time with relatives.