Let’s face it: Nurses are better than doctors at some things


Image: Sam Edwards | OJO Images | Getty Images

Nurse Rebekah Child and Brady Pregerson, MD, good-naturedly debate the claim that nurses are naturally more meticulous by dissecting the medical professional. How? Vis-à-vis an age-old nursery rhyme.

And don’t miss Nurse Rebekah’s homespun technique for ensuring bacteria-free hands (end of article). It’ll have you singing!

Nurse Rebekah: Wanna know my theory about why nurses keep their hands cleaner than doctors? If you do, read on; if you don’t, go and Google, Facebook or Twitter something.

It’s because men are the dominant presence in medicine. According to the AMA, in 2003, men made up 74 percent of the MD workforce, and we all know that the majority of men were once boys, and boys are gross. “Snips and snails and puppy dog tails” is what the famous poem says little boys are made of. Let’s just call a spade a spade here, people. Don’t think I’m male bashing, because I do love all of you guys and your manly ways. But I’m basing these opinions on both anecdotal evidence and hard data. Anecdotally, men spit and blow snot rockets. Scientifically, in a study based on the observations of 6,000 people in various cities, researchers found that one-third of men don’t bother to wash their hands after using the restroom, versus only 12 percent of women.

Dr. Brady: Yes, yes, I know the Mother Goose nursery rhyme: “Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of!” I don’t doubt it, and men may spend less time on personal hygiene, but I don’t think that’s the reason why nurses outperform doctors on hand washing. We need a study of male vs. female doctors and male vs. female nurses to figure out that one.

And another thing, perhaps that bathroom study was flawed. If they’re only urinating, many men wash their hands BEFORE rather than after. That’s because we use our hands to hold our urinating organ, and our hands are usually dirtier than our penises, so it makes sense to wash them first. Did your study take that into account?

Nurse Rebekah: Physicians may use bigger words and know more scientific stuff, but they still need to be guided in the ways of cleanliness—because 74 percent of them are male. Therefore, it’s up to us to publicly embarrass them, nag them and/or use brute hand-sanitizer force to get some better compliance. I hate when I see doctors typing at the keyboards with gloves on! TAKE THEM OFF AND WASH YOUR HANDS. Hello, I am NOT your maid and I am not your wife, so I will not pick up your dirty gloves. Throw them in the trash can.

Dr. Brady: We all sometimes need a little reminding; no one is perfect. Medicine—and emergency medicine, in particular—is definitely a team sport, and looking out for your teammates is part of the game. If we’re going to hold hands, let them be clean hands.

Nurse Rebekah: I hope all of us nurses (male and female) get really good at this—for our sake and our patients’ sake. I have a sneaking suspicion that if we don’t get really clear about hand hygiene, the tables may turn as the number of female physicians and male nurses increases. People, I want to live a long time and not catch a URI every four weeks, so let’s all wash our hands please! Plus, it’s a great opportunity to practice your singing (sing “Happy Birthday” twice and you’ve successfully met the mark for the recommended amount of time for sudsing up) or even longingly stare at the clock while you lather, daydreaming about clocking out at the end of your day!

We don’t trust Mother Goose to be the most scientific source, so we invite you to join in the banter by telling us where your workplace weighs in: Are nurses better at handwashing than doctors where you work?

ER Pocketbooks

Brady Pregerson, MD
Brady Pregerson, MD, a returned Peace Corps volunteer and winner of the 1995 Wise Preventive Medicine Scholarship, completed his medical school at the University of California, San Diego, and his residency at Los Angeles County General Hospital. He has authored three medical pocket books for nurses and doctors, as well as the educational web sites and Dr. Pregerson currently works as an emergency physician in Southern California. He writes, "Although the ED environment may be quite different from working on the hospital floor or in an office setting, I am hopeful that you can take these tips and apply them to your own specific work situation." You can buy his books on lessons from the ER, including Don't Try This At Home: Lessons from the Emergency Department and Think Twice: More Lessons from the ER, at

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