Student Nurse Series: Please Wash Your Hands

My previous posts have been advice and encouragement for you, the student. My hope was to inspire you to stay strong through school and see the reward that becoming a nurse can offer. You have many years of stability, security, and integrity ahead of you. The world is your oyster. You have the option to stay in your home town and see your career to retirement or you can travel the world one patient at a time. While we may meet again in future posts, I find no better way to sum up this series of posts with one final and most critical piece of advice. This time, it is more for the sake of your patients. Here goes. Please wash your hands.

If there are any words of wisdom that I can impart to you, the single most critical skill you must master and continue to take seriously throughout your career is hand washing. This sounds so silly, right? Handwashing is a basic skill, right? For most of us, it is the first skill we are signed off on in our first week of our first semester of our first year of nursing school. So why would I take the time to post this? Because patients are still suffering and dying literally at our hands.

Brief History

It is only since the mid 1800’s that researchers discovered a link between lack of hand hygiene and the spread of infection in hospitals. During the 1850’s in both the U.S. and Austria, nosocomial infections were first linked to lack of handwashing between patient care. Around the same time, Florence Nightingale, along with a team of nurses, found that soldiers of the Crimean War were dying in large part to the unsanitary conditions of the hospital wards. By implementing small changes with relation to better hygiene, beginning with handwashing, the amount of soldier deaths from infection dramatically decreased.

Today’s Statistics

Here is the startling reason for this post. According the World Health Organization (WHO), “thousands of people die every day around the world from infections acquired while receiving health care.” Let that sink in. Last year in the U.S. alone, 80,000 patients succumbed to nosocomial infections. Proper and diligent hand hygiene alone can improve these numbers. 

What Can We Do?

The most important thing to remember is to take hand washing seriously. Wash your hands with soap and water vigorously if they are visibly soiled or come into contact with blood or body fluids. Wash your hands after using the bathroom. The WHO sums it up perfectly. “Hand hygiene contributes significantly to keeping patients safe. It is a simple, low-cost action to prevent the spread of many of the microbes that cause health care-associated infections (HAI). While hand hygiene is not the only measure to counter HAI, compliance with it alone can dramatically enhance patient safety, because there is much scientific evidence showing that microbes causing HAI are most frequently spread between patients on the hands of health-care workers.”

Please take your responsibility of hand hygiene seriously. Avoid cutting any corners as your years and experience as a nurse accumulate. Each time you wash your hands, take pride in a simple act that saves lives.

Lori is an American nurse and yogini living in Gothenburg, Sweden. She contributes regularly to Mighty Nurse, AWHONN, American Nurse Today, and has been featured in The Huffington Post. Follow her adventures through her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.


Hand Hygiene: Why, How, and When?

Evidence for Hand Hygiene Guidelines

Historical Perspective on Hand Hygiene in Health Care

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