Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been an endemic nosocomial pathogen at the VA medical center (VAMC) in Providence, Rhode Island since 1981. From 1985 to 1987, more than 30% of all unique S aureus isolates were methicillin resistant. To evaluate the frequency of acquisition of MRSA isolates by healthcare workers, we compared the antimicrobial susceptibility patterns, multilocus enzyme genotypes and plasmid profiles of isolates recovered from nasal and hand cultures from VAMC nurses and house staff on rotation at the VAMC with those of clinical isolates from patients at the VAMC and four other affiliated hospitals. Fifty-six percent of ward nurses cultured (n = 112) were colonized with S aureus, of which 65% was methicillin resistant. Six isolates of MRSA were identified on the initial culturing of house staff (n=65); 16 MRSA isolates were recovered at the end of a four-week rotation (p<.02). Phenotypic and genotypic analyses demonstrated that numerous distinct MRSA strains were recovered in the study period. The incidence of MRSA among clinical isolates at the VAMC and affiliated institutions was remarkably constant throughout the three-year study period. Moreover, despite regularly sharing resident physicians, interns and medical students, MRSA isolates were uncommonly recovered at the other university-affiliated hospitals. Our study failed to reveal evidence of significant interhospital transmission of MRSA isolates by healthcare workers. While healthcare workers may contribute to the dissemination of MRSA within institutions, they appear to be less important in spreading MRSA between institutions (Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 1990;11:479-485.).