Color Blindness in Medical Jobs

Color vision deficiency is a very common disease—specially among men. So there have to be also many colorblind doctors and health professionals. Do you know if your medic is colorblind? And what if he really is, did he take some wrong decisions because of his color blindness?

Perfect or good color vision is not yet a precondition for any medical jobs. And there aren’t many studies about color vision deficiency and how it affects medical skills. J. Anthonny Spalding did a research on exactly this topic about ten years ago and brought together some interesting and still newsworthy results. He called his paper Colour vision deficiency in the medical profession.

Several studies in the last century have shown, that color vision deficiencies are occurring at about the same rate for doctors as for the population at large. In one of those studies, colorblind doctors were asked about their most common problems caused by their color vision deficiency:

  • body color changes of pallor, cyanosis, jaundice, and cherry red
  • rashes and erythema of skin
  • charts, slides, prints, and codes
  • test-strips for blood and urine
  • ophthalmoscopy
  • blood or bile in urine, faeces, sputum, or vomit
  • otoscopy

This is a quite impressive list of diseases which could be wrongly diagnosed or overseen by a colorblind doctor. If they know about their color vision deficiency—not every doctor knows about it—they try to overcome it by closer observation, asking others, and paying more attention to the patients medical history.

By taking greater care and the fact, that there are many diagnosis not involving colors, it is widely accepted that your colorblind doctor performs as well as a non-colorblind medic. There are also not really any serious errors known based on a misjudgment of a doctor suffering from a color vision deficiency.

But still, there are some situations where color blindness could be the cause for wrong decisions:

  1. If a single sign of observation is essential to take the correct action.
  2. Scanning of an area for the detection of small features (bacilli, rash,…).
  3. Special work conditions like speed, alone, and poor illumination.

Dr Spalding concludes, that all this points to the need for screening for color vision deficiency for medical students and doctors. Which could specially be used for better counseling and an informed choice of career. But he also believes, that because of the wide range of specialties, the question of non-acceptance of applicants to medical school need hardly arise.