Italian nurse visits WSU to explore power of touch in healthcare

Closeup of Enrico De Luca.
Italian nurse Enrico De Luca visiting WSU Spokane to conduct research with Marian Wilson, WSU College of Nursing on the benefits of therapeutic touch on patients. Photo by Cori Kogan, WSU Spokane.

By Addy Hatch, College of Nursing

SPOKANE, Wash. – An internet discovery led an Italian nurse to the Washington State University College of Nursing this summer.

Enrico De Luca, a longtime critical care nurse, had spent more than a decade investigating the power of touch in health care. While working on his doctorate, he ran across a study led by WSU College of Nursing Assistant Professor Marian Wilson that looked at whether nurse-led massage can reduce compassion fatigue. Wilson’s study complemented the work De Luca has done in Italy, training nurses in massage techniques and researching the effect of therapeutic touch on patients, families and nurses.

“I wrote to Marian and said, what do you think about doing something together?” said De Luca, who’s a doctoral student at Sapienza University of Rome.

De Luca landed a grant to travel to Spokane to work with Wilson and arrived this summer for a three-month stay that ends Sept. 25. While here, he’s shared information on his research with audiences at area hospitals. In addition, he and Michele Shaw, a WSU College of Nursing associate professor, are working with Wilson on a study of nurses’ attitudes about touch and massage in a clinical setting.

De Luca says his experiences in Italy have shown him that intentional touch and massage is a learned skill that can help reduce anxiety in patients and their families.

“As nurses, our domain really is our relationship with patients,” he said.

Wilson said her previous research also showed that greater physical contact with patients helps nurses, too.

“We’re really focused on technology and intervention, and less attention is paid to creating time and space for that therapeutic relationship” between patient and nurse, she said. “When you take time to connect with the patient, positive things happen on both sides.”

The new study by Wilson, De Luca and Shaw wants to see how receptive American nurses are to massage and therapeutic touch.

“Our long-term vision is that we’d love to get more nurses engaged in using some of these massage techniques,” which used to be taught in nursing schools, Wilson said.

De Luca said at one hospital in Italy where he provided a workshop on the importance of being in contact with patients, touching is now recognized as a skill that requires training and preparation.

“If nurses can get more peer support and support from their institution, this could be a tool for less burnout, and help nurses find new meaning in their profession,” he said.

Take part in the study

Are you a nurse involved in patients’ direct care? Would you like to share your ideas, opinions and experience about  providing touch and massage within nursing care?

If you answered YES to these questions, you may be eligible to participate in an interview or a focus group.

For more information please call 509-324-7443 or email

A $10 gift card will be offered to thank you for your participation.



  • Addy Hatch, communication director, WSU College of Nursing, 509-324-7340,

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