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The nursing profession needs to be strengthened continuously

Michael Magnus Wagner next to Semmelweis Memorial
(c)Carola Timmel
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Michael Magnus Wagner is academic teacher of nursing and nursing scientist in Austria (Academy of continuing education in nursing-Vienna Hospital Association). Coincidentally, his office is housed in the former gynecology – a few steps away from the Semmelweis memorial. He often catches sight of the monument, which underpins his conviction that the nursing profession needs to be strengthened continuously – especially in the area of hygiene.

“There is no lecture that I do not open with a reference to Semmelweis”, says Michael M. Wagner, who is passing the Semmelweis memorial every day, walking to his office. “The achievements of the pioneer of hygiene, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, are from utmost importance for us today and the students need to know about it.”

The special thing about hygiene is that it is a big topic for all nursing professions – not just for hygiene professionals – and M. Wagner is trying to convey this in his courses. Last year the subject “sales training” was integrated into the curriculum for the first time. “That means that I train the future hygiene professionals on how to bring the “product hygiene” to their colleagues.” It is about intrinsic motivation that needs to be sparked in the people, and that’s not easy. As pathogens cannot be seen, people often do not feel responsible for the effects of poor hygiene.

Motivation for interdisciplinary discussion

“What I still try to teach in my courses: Do not be afraid to confront doctors if they have forgotten to disinfect their hands for example.” A courageous behavior is closely associated with competence: The better educated, the more self-confident they are in the interaction with the doctors. The academization of nurses in Austria (2016) was a first important step in this direction. Since this time future hygiene specialists are trained at the college of nursing and graduate with a bachelor.

That is often seen as “pseudo-academization”, but Wagner doesn’t see it that way, on the contrary: In his opinion, students are much more capable of reading and interpreting studies through academization This is enormously important, in particular for hygiene specialists. It makes their work more satisfying and is giving the them the feeling of being able to participate in the discussion. However, what we have to strive for is, that the hygienists get the opportunity to publish studies. Their expertise and knowledge should be used.

Inspire potential hygiene professionals for the job

It is important to inspire students for the specialization “hygiene” already in the basic training. Currently most of the hygienists have worked for years in other specializations and get interested in the subject of hygiene later on – mostly for health reasons. The job of hygiene specialists is not connected with physical exertion – it’s a desk job – hygiene plans are created, surveillance-data collected etc.
“Unfortunately, we have the situation that interested people do not dare to take the step, because the salary is worse than in other specializations (elimination of night services and other allowances). Today, the situation is better than in the times when I was working as a hygiene specialist, but it is really about time to adapt the salaries;” says Wagner.
Also, the fact that the number of hygiene professionals (1 hygiene specialist per 200 beds) recommended by PROHYG* is not implemented in most Austrian hospitals is not appealing to interested people.

Hygienic companies should join together

“A long overdue alliance of all hygiene societies would help to accelerate developments in the field of hospital hygiene. Animosities of the individual societies in view of the enormous challenges we face are not appropriate.
Compared to Semmelweis who could hardly prove his discoveries, we have good conditions. We know what to do, we just need to implement it.
In 2021, I hope we start with the new special course – definitely again with Semmelweis as moral support, because for me the motto is: Only if you know the past, you can solve the problems of the future,” M. Wagner is convinced.

*Expert statement on the organization and strategy of hospital hygiene

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