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.

20 responses on “Color Blindness in Medical Jobs

  1. Rj

    I’m a doctor, and I’m colorblind. I only find difficult when treating with skin deseases, but I always ask a nurse or other doctor about their opinion. Also, I’ve learned to not only diagnosis because of the color, but also about texture.

  2. John Spalding

    Congratulations on your website. It is friendly and accurate and will do a lot of good. It will clear up muddled thinking on the subject. You gave a good summary of what I think following various studies on the subject. And see my article,”The confessions of a colour blind physician” in Clinical and Experimental Optometry” 334-338: Vol.4-5 July 2004. Yes, I did pass the ball to the wrong person at rugby football when a schoolboy. I am called by my second name Tony. I are others are preparing a website too specifically for medical students and doctors.
    Kind regards

  3. Christopher Cairns

    Thanks very much for this information. Can I assume that nursing is classed under medical jobs and that are no colour vision requirments for nursing jobs eirther.

  4. Jason


    I’m a nurse, there was an ishihara test during the health check thing we all had to do to get on to the course. I’ve known that I’m moderately red-green colour blind since primary school, so my heart sank when I saw the lady pull out those coloured dots, but she said mine wasn’t severe enough to stop me doing my job properly and to be honest I’ve never had any difficulties

  5. Jason

    Sorry forgot to mention, when I failed a lot of the ishihara test cards the lady doing the test produced a different test that I did better in, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, I just know I did better on it! I guess if I had of done badly in the second one was well I wouldn’t have been let on to the course

  6. iqz

    i’m a medic student but i’m color blind,i know its not a plesure for my future patients knowing that i have this such disability.
    i do hope that there is a way of treating this color blindness..
    glasses perhaps..i just dont want to be a victim of this thing..

  7. Dave

    The info presented here unfortunately doesn’t match my experience. I completed the coursework for my Emergency Medical Technician training and only found out after I passed the certification that all departments would require normal color vision. To my knowledge, the same applies to nurses. My colorblindness was such a problem that I gave up trying to enter the healthcare field. Wish it were different.

  8. John Spalding

    The website will be available in about a month. Keep this space open for me to give it to you.

  9. Christopher Cairns

    Thanks for the reply jason i got onto the nursing course and they said my colourblindness was not a problem (im quite mild colourblind). I also know they do not test for colourblindness when applying for a job here in england as i have asked several male qualified nurses.
    Dave colourblindness is a reason for non acceptance over here for emt or ambulance tech as its known over here. Think main reason was due to the emergency driving required similar to police etc.

  10. Mahavir Singh Bisht

    My son is studying in class 12th,he is preparing to medical entrance test.he is keen interested to do MBBS but he is red-green type of colour blind.
    Please suggest me ,1-is my son elligible to do MBBS from any medical college ? 2-will he perform satisfactorly in his medical job ?

  11. Joseph

    Im also a colorblind medical student. Im facing problem while studying the content which based on the colors in the diagram. Make a suggestion for me!

  12. Pliny82

    I’m a Respiratory Therapist in the US. While colorblindness was a question asked during the health screening for my current job, it had no bearing on whether I got hired or not. In fact, a mechanical ventilator we currently use has digital readouts that display in only red and green. Red is for the setting we put in and green is for what the patient returns. It was confusing for a while but you learn to deal.

  13. Steven D.

    I am just about to finish Hemodialisys Technician school-my final test is in a couple of days.I was so surprised when today the teacher suddenly told us that colorblind don’t have any chance to be hired, because one of the thing we have to do is to check the water’s chlorine level with these stupid question is why these people from the school administaration didn’t tell us when we apply but now when we graduate?!!!They suposed to know that!I spend money, time, hopes everything.And i never had a test score less than 98%!I never had any problems in my life because of my red-green deficiency.

  14. Tony

    Don’t give up the ghost dude. I have over 25 yrs as a biomed in the field and the state of TX has decided that I was unfit for duty after I couldn’t read the Isahari plates.
    I decided to take a Farnsworth 100 test and take the water test (Hardness,Chlorine and Residual Chlorine) strips to the exam with me.
    She told me that I would have a great court case if I score well on the test plus demonstrate that I can read the test acurately. This phycisian feels that to classify all failures of the Ishari as not employable is an injustice to me and any other marginal color blind person. Will keep you informed. HANG IN THERE :)

  15. John


    Can you post any updates about your case here? I will be following this thread. I am in anesthesia training and was told today that I may not be able to continue my training because of my color deficiency.

  16. Raj Ratan

    i want to know what are the rules in US. i want to take up neurosurgery there. are there any specific guidlines followed by every hospital for recruitment of colour blind doctors
    please any body guide me.
    i have mild red green coulour blindness and i could see many pictures but confidence is problem because of knowing it.

  17. krish

    im doing mbbs and i have colour vision defect
    i cant read ishihara’s colour chart but i can identify red,green,blue,yellow colurs
    i dont have anyconfusion between those colours but i cant read ishihara’s charts

    i want to prepare for USMLE exams
    can anyone please tell me whether im eligible or not?

    thank you

  18. Niki

    I’m mild red-green colourdlind.. Now I’ve been studying at the university of languages. However, my dream is to become a doctor (cardiologist). Will I be to enter a medical university and become a doctor or should I just forget about my dream?

  19. ansj29

    i am a MBBS doctor and suffering from mild grade of red-green colour blindness.i want to do MS surgery, kindly guide me if i would fail in medical and if not my future in post pg degree (M.Ch)