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Nurses and women come up cleaner in hand washing studies -- by Robin Walters, R.N., B.S.N.

As part of our guest contributor program, we thank Robin Walters R.N., B.S.N, for her article below that illuminates some interesting differences in the hand hygiene behavior of men and women--both in healthcare settings and outside of them. The results may surprise you...

In order to improve hand washing behavior, it helps to know who needs to improve. Recent studies indicate that men and physicians (73% of whom in the U.S. are male) need to wash up more often.

For a study published in the June 2008 Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, observers documented the hand hygiene behavior of workers at the University of Toledo Medical Center for roughly five months. The results? Nurses complied with hand washing at a rate of 91.3%, while medical attending physicians (the lowest performers) registered at 72.4%.

 A 2007 study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) also suggests that campaigns to improve hand washing need to focus more on men. Observers recorded the hand washing behavior of adults who used public restrooms at six large sites in four major U.S. cities, and overall, 88% of the women and 66% of the men washed up.

The confessions of moms and dads further support a gender divide in hand hygiene. As part of the 2007 Clean Hands Report Card, the SDA surveyed by telephone parents of school-age children and found that 97% of the mothers vs. 89% of the fathers reported always washing their hands after using the bathroom. Although results of observational studies strongly suggest a gap between reported and actual hand washing behavior, the difference between what moms and dads own up to remains significant.

And, this lean toward women as better washers may be global. At the University of Geneva Hospital, a hand hygiene study appearing in the November 2007 Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology revealed that “female sex . . . increased the likelihood of compliance with hand hygiene.” With the U.S. R.N. force 92% female, this is good news for patients.

About the author: Robin Walters, R.N., B.S.N., has been privileged to provide care in hospitals, clinics, schools and physician offices, at sites ranging from large urban to remote rural.

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