This week, my theme is small things that make a big difference. This month, I taught my Medical students the key procedure in infection control: handwashing.
I spent some time – 15 seconds to be exact – demonstrating proper handwashing technique to my students. Although this sounds like the kindergarten curriculum, it’s important to start with the basics . . . especially when patients’ lives are at stake.
Like with any other medical procedure, I taught them to plan their approach – just as you would approach a public washroom – with your exit in mind. Make sure you have everything at hand. You’ll need soap of course.
There should be a paper towel available (without you having to crank a contaminated lever with your freshly washed hands) that you will use to dry your hands, turn off the taps and in the case of a public washroom, open the door.
There are parts of our hands that are commonly missed when washing. These include the fingertips and the back of each hands. If you take the time to lather up the soap and wash the four sides of each finger, the palms and the back of each hand, you’ll find that it really does take about 15 seconds.
I teach my students to treat handwashing as a ritual between each patient: do it carefully and mindfully as a transition between the sacred one-on-one time with each patient. When we are with a patient, it is essential to be mindful – to be totally focused on that individual’s problems and experiences. If we are distracted with interruptions, the pressure of time or our own thoughts about the previous patient, we will not fully attend to the patient before us and we are more likely to make a mistake.
If we are not fully present, we will notice the difference and so will our patients.
Today: note how well you normally wash your hands, then take the time to wash them like a conscientious doctor or medical student. By doing this before and after you eat or touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you will greatly reduce your chances of picking up and spreading infections, like the common cold, strep throat and influenza.
Little things like handwashing can make a big difference in your own health and the health of others.