SHOULDN’T MEDICAL STUDENTS BE TAUGHT HYGIENE? What else needs to be done? Medical schools should be teaching future doctors the precautions they must take to protect their patients from infection. It’s hard to believe, but most medical schools devote virtually no time, not even one full class, to showing students how bacteria are transmitted from patient to patient on clothing, equipment, and gloves, and what specifically they should be doing to prevent it. Dr. Frank Lowey, a professor at the New York–Presbyterian Hospital at the Columbia University Medical Center says, “it’s something we should have done quite a while ago.” Lowey says it’s ironic that “there are curriculum committees devoted to making sure that bio–terrorism is covered, and the risk of nosocomial infections far outweighs that.” Some medical schools are stressing the importance of curbing the use of antibiotics. That’s good, because overuse of antibiotics wastes money and causes bacteria to morph into new, drug–resistant strains. But limiting the use of antibiotics won’t stop hospital infections. Patients who contract MRSA get it from unclean hands or contaminated equipment or clothing, not from taking antibiotics. No hospital has ever eradicated infection merely by controlling the use of these drugs. When medical students put on their white coats and swear the Hippocratic Oath, they should be taught how to do no harm. Preventing the spread of bacteria is an essential part of that lesson. They should learn it before they go out on the hospital floors and touch their first patient.

For additional information and footnotes, please see the 3rd edition of RID’s popular publication, “UNNECESSARY DEATHS: THE HUMAN AND FINANCIAL COSTS OF HOSPITAL INFECTIONS.” (PDF 674 KB)