‘Health sniffers’: Ability, use and perceived importance of smell in a group of health professionals
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The ability to smell is an important component in the arsenal of healthcare professionals diagnostic tool kit. Patient assessment and subsequent health investigation and treatment often depends on effective use of sensory systems in those most immediately responsible for their care; most commonly nurses. Moreover, our previous research suggest that olfaction is one sensory system which, in otherwise healthy people, appears not to decline with age . Odours from breath, tissue and other clinical samples often contribute to clinical diagnosis and the instigation of treatment regimens. Despite this, we have yet to find a published study that examines smelling ability in any singificant professional group or in students who are training in a specific profession, irrespective of how significant smelling is to that profession. Thus we explored the sense of smell in experienced nurses and student nurses. We compared their ability to that of the normative Australian population . This study applied the sniffin' sticks test of olfactory ability , coupled with simple questionnaire data, to a group of nursing students (n=45) and experienced nurses (n=30). These data were compared to demographically similar Australian data in non-health professionals using the current Australian olfactory data base held at GU. Nurses reported much greater attention to and importance of their sense of smell than either of the other groups. However, there were no significant differences (p>0.05) between the actual or the perceived ability to smell by nursing students, nurses and the normative Australian population for odour identification, odour discrimination or threshold for odour detection. This study is a significant beginning to our understanding of the use and importance of olfaction in the work-place. It enables us to begin to build an understanding of how attention to olfactory cues (often indicating disease) may develop during clinical experience and thus to understand how we can best prepare students in healthcare and medical associated professions for their future 'information-rich' clinical olfactory environment.  Mackay-Sim et al., Chemical Senses 2006, 23, 763-71.  Mackay-Sim et al., Journal of Clinical Neuroscience 2004, 11, 874-879.  Hummel et al., Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol, 2007, 264, 237-43.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Conference Abstract: SUMMER SCHOOL on HUMAN OLFACTION