This paper discusses Germ Theory and its application to nursing practice. It examines two specific case studies from current research to show how Germ Theory informs theory-led practice in both routine aspects of everyday care, and in the specialised circumstances of medical crises.

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Germ Theory can be considered one of the most influential breakthroughs in the history of medicine, having a fundamental impact on the human ability to resist the impact of infection on human health. When Germ Theory was developed in the twentieth century, the resulting developments in public health, hygiene, antibiotics and vaccinations meant that the spread and contraction of infectious diseases could be controlled and, in some cases, eradicated; according to Egger, “It seemed that man’s battle against disease had been all but won” (Egger, 2012, n.p.). While medicine now faces new challenges, the practicalities of nursing mean that Germ Theory remains a key theory informing the day to day practice of nurses in all fields and at all levels.

Two key examples of current research indicate the ways in which Germ Theory continues to influence nursing practice. The first is at the basic level of hygiene: in their 2014 study, White et al discussed the impact of Germ Theory on nurses’ commitment to regular hand-washing whilst on duty – a significant measure in the control and prevention of infection. The writers described how, as the practitioners with “the most physical contact with patients” (White et al, 2014, n.p.), it was vitally important for nurses to understand Germ Theory as the basis for such practices. They recommend a programme of education which includes Germ Theory as one potential solution, helping nurses to see the correlation between outbreaks of infection and hand hygiene. In a study investigating a more critical application of Germ Theory, Davies et al discussed the role of nurses in helping to contain the spread of contagion with relation to the Ebola crisis (Davies et al, 2015). In this study, the researchers discussed the role of Germ Theory in informing nursing practices relating to hygiene and treatment of patients in the austere and challenging physical surroundings of Sierra Leon.

What these two studies highlight is the way in which Germ Theory remains relevant to theory-based nursing practice, informing not only routine procedure but also specialised nursing responses to specific modern health challenges.

  • Davies, B. C., Bowley, D., Roper, K. (2015). “Response to the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone.” Nursing Standard, 29(26), 37-41.
  • Egger, G. (2012). “In Search of a Germ Theory Equivalent for Chronic Disease.” Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, 9(110301). Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2012/11_0301.htm.
  • White, K. M., Jimmieson, N. L., Obst, P. L., Graves, N., Barnett, A., Cockshaw, W., Gee, P., Haneman, L., Page, K., Campbell, M., Martin, E., and Paterson, D. (2015). “Using a Theory of Planned Behaviour Framework to Explore Hand Hygiene Beliefs at the ‘5 Critical Moments’ Among Australian Hospital-Based Nurses.” BMC Health Services Research, 15(59). Retrieved from: http://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-015-0718-2.