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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Perceptions of personal health risks by medical and non-medical workers in a university medical center: a survey study

Tita Alissa Listyowardojo1*, Raoul E Nap2 and Addie Johnson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands

2 University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:681  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-681

Published: 9 November 2010



Health care workers (HCWs) are faced with many work-related choices which may depend on how they perceive risk, such as whether or not to comply with safety regulations. Little research has investigated risk perception in medical workers in comparison with non-medical workers and the extent to which risk perception differs in these groups. The current study thus investigates risk perception of medical and non-medical workers to inform and complement future research on safety compliance. The study has implications for the design of intervention programmes to increase the level of compliance of HCWs.


A survey study was conducted in which questionnaires were distributed to 6380 HCWs. The questionnaire asked for ratings of risk perception for cold, annual influenza, pandemic influenza, cancer, heart attack and food poisoning. Of 2495 returned questionnaires (response rate: 39%), 61.40% were from medical workers (24.1% of these were from physicians, 39.7% from nurses and 36.2% from paramedics) and 38.60% were from non-medical workers.


Medical workers gave lower risk perception ratings than did non-medical workers for cancer, but not for other health risks. Within the medical workers, physicians rated the risk of getting a cold as higher, but of having a heart attack as lower than did nurses and paramedics; physicians also rated their risk of getting cancer as lower than did nurses. Perceived risk was higher as a function of age for pandemic influenza, cancer and heart attack, but lower for cold and annual influenza. HCWs who lived with a partner and children rated the risk of getting a cold or annual influenza higher than those who lived alone or with a partner only. Full-time HCWs gave lower ratings for annual influenza than did part-time HCWs.


Different base levels of risk perception between medical and non-medical workers need to be taken into account for successful implementation of safety regulations.

Intervention programmes to improve compliance with safety regulations may need to be customized for different groups as a function of how they perceive risk.