• hand hygiene;
  • healthcare associated infection;
  • medical students;
  • nursing students

van de mortel t.f., kermode s., progano t. & sansoni j. (2012) A comparison of the hand hygiene knowledge, beliefs and practices of Italian nursing and medical students. Journal of Advanced Nursing68(3), 569–579.


Aim.  This paper reports a study examining the hand hygiene knowledge, beliefs and practices of Italian nursing and medical students with the aim of informing undergraduate curricula.

Background.  In comparison with registered nurses, physician status is a risk factor for non-compliance with hand hygiene guidelines. Little research has been conducted to determine if differences between the professions in relation to hand hygiene are apparent at the undergraduate level. Cross-disciplinary studies that may provide an insight into this topic are lacking.

Methods.  A questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample of 117 nursing and 119 medical students in a large university in Rome, Italy, to determine their hand hygiene knowledge, beliefs and practices. The data were collected in 2007–2008.

Results.  Nursing students’ hand hygiene knowledge (F = 9·03(1,230); P = 0·003), percentage compliance (Z = 6·197; P < 0·001) and self-reported hand hygiene practices (F = 34·54(1,230); P < 0·001) were significantly higher than that of medical students. There were no statistically significant differences between hand hygiene beliefs. Mean scores on the knowledge questions were low for both groups, reflecting primarily a knowledge deficit in relation to the use of alcohol-based hand rubs to decontaminate hands in the healthcare setting.

Conclusion.  Statistically significant disciplinary differences in hand hygiene knowledge and self-reported practices were apparent among undergraduate Italian healthcare students. Further research is needed to determine the causative factors. The overall low scores on the knowledge items indicate that these students require further education on hand hygiene, particularly in relation to the use of alcohol-based hand rubs.