Background: Nurses tend to wash their hands more often than physicians, and among nonhealth care workers, women tend to wash their hands more often than men. This study examined the influence of gender on the handwashing rates of health care workers (HCWs). The null hypotheses were that there would be no intergender difference in (a) handwashing rates in HCWs across professions and (b) within professional groups.
Methods: Handwashing by nurses, physicians, wardspersons, x-ray technicians, and physiotherapists after patient contact in a critical care unit (CCU) was determined through covert observation. The gender and profession of the subjects were recorded, but their identity was not.
Results: Female CCU staff washed their hands significantly more often than did their male counterparts after patient contact (P =.0001). When the results were examined for the influence of profession on handwashing, significant intergender differences remained for physicians (P =.0468) and wardspersons (P =.0001). There was also a nonsignificant trend (P =.07) toward higher rates of handwashing among female x-ray technicians. There were no statistically significant intergender differences in handwashing rates among nurses (P =.7588) and physiotherapists.
Conclusions: It appears that gender may influence handwashing rates in HCWs in the CCU, although this difference appears to be modified in particular professional groups. Further research should examine factors that modify handwashing rates within professional groups and in settings other than the CCU.