Scrubbing the Bacteria Out of Scrubs

Emmaline Ashe '16 and Ainsley Wilson ’16 examined the presence of certain bacteria on nurses’ scrubs and the effectiveness of home laundering methods as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Simmons (SURPASs).  We spoke with Emmaline about her research experience.

What are you studying here at Simmons?

I’m studying Public Health and Environmental Science, both on the Biology track.

Tell us a bit about you research project. How was the study set up and what were you hoping to learn?

Professor Scott and Professor Duty conducted a study here at Simmons examining the laundering practices of nursing students and the presence of pathogens MSSA and MRSA on their scrubs. My friend Ainsley Wilson and I continued their research, with a slight twist. Instead of recruiting student nurses to study, we recruited professional nurses from South Shore Hospital. We collected and analyzed swabbed samples from the nurses’ scrubs and assembled data about the laundry and work habits of the nurses. We were hoping to gather information about the presence of MSSA and MRSA on professional nurses’ scrubs and provide insight into current working conditions and laundering practices of professional nurses, to determine if home laundering is effective in reducing bacterial presence on scrub tops.

Ultimately, what did the study find in terms of the various laundering processes?

In comparison to the pilot study conducted by Professor Scott and Professor Duty, we found that professional nurses had fewer scrub tops with detectable MSSA compared to student nurses, and the laundering habits of nurses were more effective than those of the nursing students. Interestingly, we found that the nurses’ home laundering practices did not comply with current recommendations for laundering of hospital scrubs, indicating that there is an opportunity to provide education to nurses on the home laundering of scrubs.

What was it like to work with Liz Scott and Susan Duty on this project? How did you, Ainsley Wilson and your mentors work together throughout the SURPASs experience?

It was an amazing experience to work with Liz Scott and Susan Duty. They are both so accomplished and working alongside them was a privilege. Throughout the program, Ainsley and I would usually meet with our mentors about once or twice a week, and then work independently in the lab or at the hospital. Our meetings usually consisted of planning for the days ahead, sharing our data, and writing -- as well as Ainsley and I asking Professors Scott and Duty an extraordinary amount of questions! Professor Scott and Professor Duty really helped us throughout the process, and provided us with a perfect balance of independence and support.

What surprised you the most about your experience as a SURPASs student?

It was surprising to see how much we could accomplish in just the seven-week duration of the program. However, there was still a lot of work we had to do after that time period. I never fully understood how much writing and editing goes into research before I was a SURPASs student!

How will this experience help your future career and/or educational goals?

SURPASs gave me so much in terms of valuable experience and transferable skills. First of all, I learned about lab research and the processes behind collecting quantitative and qualitative data. I learned more about microbiology and gained several important lab skills. I also [gained] experience with teamwork, organization, problem solving, writing, and public speaking, all of which are vital to success in academic or professional environments. Although I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing in the future, I know that my SURPASs experience will only be a benefit to me.

What advice would you give to those considering the SURPASs program?

Apply! SURPASs was one of the most amazing and useful experiences of my undergraduate career. I would love to see more people get the opportunity that I did.

Emmaline and Ainsley are currently working on publishing the results of their research, and previously presented their work at an international conference (IDWEEK) in San Diego with support from the Simmons Student Travel Fund


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