We’ve all been there: we start to feel a little off-color and we wonder whether we should call into work sick or not.

It can be a dilemma for many nurses. 

In fact, many nurses feel guilty about having to call in sick and may even think it’s courageous or somehow indicative of good character to never take a day off work.

When should a nurse call in sick? A nurse should call in sick when they’re contagious or emotionally or physically fatigued to the point where they won’t be able to properly take care of themselves or their patients.

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Get Over the Guilt

There’s no doubt that many nurses feel guilty if they have to call in sick. 

For some, this means they go to work when they really should not. 

The first thing to think about is that no person is invincible. We all get sick at some point.

Sometimes calling in sick is not even about feeling physically unwell. There are lots of other reasons why we might need to call in sick. 

And, depending on our jobs, there are some of us who should be more mindful than others about when to call in sick.

Nurses and other healthcare workers, for example, need to have very clear guidelines on when they should call in sick. 

After all, they’re in a profession where they deal with other sick people each day. 

In this context, the last thing any nurse wants to do is give a bug to someone else.

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When Should a Nurse Call in Sick?

It can be tricky in the health sector as a nurse. 

You have a responsibility to look after people and you need to be there to get the job done. But if you’re a sick nurse you’re no good to anyone.

So when should a nurse call in sick? Here are some guidelines:

1. Contagious Illness

Did you know that the common flu can kill the very young and the very old? 

Every year, people end up in hospitals with a bad case of the flu

For most of us, it’s mild; for some people, it’s deadly.

As a nurse, you should always be aware of any symptoms of colds, flu, and other diseases that can infect others. 

If you have a fever, sore throat, runny nose, chills, body aches, or headaches, the chances are you have one of the many viral diseases that run through our communities. 

Do you really want to risk passing it onto patients who are sick or immuno-compromised? 

What might be a mild case of the flu for you could be much more serious for them.

2. Emotional or Psychological Problems

This is a broad category and might include problems at home, the death of a loved one, mental health issues, or anything else that could cause some emotional instability.

The truth is we’re all human and we’re all vulnerable to emotional and psychological problems sometimes. 

Nursing is a job that requires absolute focus and awareness. 

When you go into work and you’re coping with major life stressors, you’re prone to making mistakes and having bad judgment. 

For a nurse, that can lead to the wrong decisions. 

Imagine giving a patient the wrong medication or even the wrong dose because your mind isn’t on the job.

3. Tired or Overstressed

Nursing is a very demanding job even though there are great rewards. 

This can take a heavy toll on a person and leave him or her feeling stressed, exhausted, and unmotivated. 

Extra-long shifts, politics at work, or feeling underappreciated can all cause these feelings.

We all need a break sometimes, and this applies to stressful jobs such as nursing

The fact is that stress can have a big impact on your physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. 

From headaches to high blood sugar, we are only just beginning to understand the complex effects that stress can have on us.

If you need to take a break from work because you’re feeling unmotivated, exhausted, or stressed, you should do so. 

Nurses need to be at the top of their game so taking a break for these reasons is perfectly legitimate.

Related Article: 5 Stress Management Techniques for Nurses

No Need for Guilty Feelings

Many nurses tend to push through any sickness before calling in to take a sick day. 

This is partly because nurses are often so dedicated to their roles that they feel guilty for thinking of their own needs above the needs of their patients.

Other times, it’s because a nurse might not have enough sick leave to cover a call in so nurses feel obligated to go to work so they can look after their families.

If someone hasn’t told you yet, let me be the first one to tell you it’s ok to call in sick.

Your physical and emotional well-being is very important and if you’re not careful then you risk putting your or your patients at risk.

If it’s related to money then it might be a good time to think about starting a budget and learning how to save money so you can get your family finances more prepared if needed.

Find Your Next Nursing Job

Use our nursing job board to start looking for and applying to great nursing jobs near you.


Nursing is a rewarding but tiring career. 

Nurses need to be healthy and able to focus at work so it’s never a good idea for any nurse to go to work unwell or unstable. 

This is not only bad for the nurse in question but also poses a risk to other staff and patients.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen a coworker show up to work sick when they shouldn’t have?

Related Article to Should a Nurse Call in Sick

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