The first phase of this study was performed to determine the rate of breaks in hand washing technique by physicians in two pediatric ambulatory settings and to determine whether this technique was influenced by the physician's level of training. The second phase was performed to determine if reminding physicians to wash their hands would decrease the rate of breaks. A hand washing break in technique was defined as not washing hands before patient contact. The observations were made by medical students accompanying the providers. In the 496 encounters during the first phase, 254 breaks (51.2%) occurred. In the 293 encounters during the second phase, 150 (51.2%) breaks occurred. During both phases, the rates of hand washing breaks among the four groups of providers (residents in postgraduate years 1 through 3 and faculty) were similar. Breaks in hand washing technique occur at an unacceptably high rate in outpatient settings.