Donning Our Gloves (by guest blogger Amber Williams )

A few years ago, I was writing a paper for a graduate class, I was asked to look at a health care issue that had changed over time.  I asked a colleague what change she had noticed in her nursingcareer.  “Gloves – we didn’t used to wear them,” she said.  Curious about this, I decided to write my paper on the history of this nursing practice we call “donning our gloves.”

The first nurse to wear gloves during surgery was Caroline Hampton in 1890 (Lathan, 2010). She had developed severe contact dermatitis from the disinfectants used during the procedures.  I paraphrased Dr. Halsted’s words in my paper, but I really like the way he described the situation so I’ll share it here: 

In the winter of 1889 and 1890—I cannot recall the month—the nurse in charge of my operating-room complained that the solutions of mercuric chloride produced a dermatitis of her arms and hands. As she was an unusually efficient woman, I gave the matter my consideration and one day in New York requested the Goodyear Rubber Company to make as an experiment two pair of thin rubber gloves with gauntlets. On trial these proved to be so satisfactory that additional gloves were ordered. In the autumn, on my return to town, an assistant who passed the instruments and threaded the needles was also provided with rubber gloves to wear at the operations. At first the operator wore them only when exploratory incisions into joints were made. After a time the assistants became so accustomed to working in gloves that they also wore them as operators and would remark that they seemed to be less expert with the bare hands than with the gloved hands (para. 4).

(This does make me wonder, what would have happened if Nurse Hampton had not been “an unusually efficient woman”?  The fact that this eventually turned into a love story is noted in the article, too!)

In 1896, another surgeon, Dr. Bloodgood, began using gloves during surgery. Three years later he documented an almost 100 percent drop in post-operative infection rates because of the use of the gloves (Lathan, 2010).

I found it interesting that the first use of gloves by a nurse was for the protection of her hands; but like many nursing interventions, the solution for her need ended up meeting an even greater need: the safety of patients and the prevention of spreading diseases.  However, as my colleague noted, glove-wearing has been an inconsistent practice among nurses over the last century, even though we are fully aware of the personal and patient safety risks associated with not wearing them.

By wearing gloves each time we change a dressing, access a mediport, start an IV, hang chemotherapy, or empty a urinal, we perform an act of caring – for our patients and for ourselves.





Lathan, S. R. (2010, Oct). Caroline Hampton Halsted: The first to use rubber gloves in the operating room. Proceedings (Baylor University Medical Center), 23(4), 389-92. Retrieved April 22, 2014, from