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There are many debatable issues in the world of medicine, and the wearing of medical scrubs is one of them. Medical scrubs have evolved over the years, as doctors and researchers sought a more hygienic and germ-free solution to apparel for doctors and nurses. Where there was an era of strict conformity to germ control and starched white nursing dresses and caps, standards have relaxed somewhat, and nurses today wear comfortable scrubs with various options in brand, style, and color.

While today’s scrubs are very comfortable and functional, nursing scrubs are also becoming a source for the spread of germs and contagious diseases.

The Cause

Medical scrubs are meant to serve three main functions: identification of medical personnel, to generate respect, and perhaps most important, hygiene. Ideally, medical scrubs should be worn only at work, and should be left there before leaving at the end of the day. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and nurses habitually wear their scrubs home, as well as while running errands. This may be caused by the fact that many hospitals do not offer to launder nurses’ scrubs anymore, so medical personnel are now forced to take their scrubs home.

Aside for the fact that home laundering of scrubs is not as effective at killing germs, viruses, and bacteria as commercial laundering, when scrubs are worn in public they spread germs that were contracted at work, while picking up public germs at the same time, and passing them back to patients.

Experimental Proof

MSNBC reports on a study done by Israeli researchers in Shaare Zedek Medical Center. After collecting samples from the sleeves, waists, and pockets of doctors and nurses at a large hospital, the researchers isolated potentially dangerous bacteria from at least one site on 63% of the uniforms.  Among this pool, 11% of the bugs were resistant to conventional means of treatment and antibiotics. While the results of the study did not show conclusive findings of an increase in germs on scrubs that are worn outside of the hospital, the findings do strongly point in that direction.

The cause of more nurses wearing uniforms outside of the hospital setting is twofold; fewer hospitals launder their nurses’ scrubs due to budget cuts, and Ann Marie Pettis, Director of Infection Prevention at the University of Rochester Medical Center says that even in hospitals such as hers, where strict policies are in place, there is a low rate of compliance with regulations in this area. Hospital management has many pressing matters on their agendas, and compliance to medical scrubs regulations often falls to the bottom of the list.

The Defense

Many medical personnel are quick to defend themselves by pointing out that the majority of hospital germs are distributed not by way of scrubs, but via other means, such as visitors to the hospital. They point to visitors who don’t wash their hands, eat in areas where they should not be bringing food, and bring in babies and toddlers, as the leading cause of the spread of germs. While this argument is valid, it is difficult to regulate visitors’ practices, aside for in specialized areas, such as the ICU.

Admittedly, there are also many other sources of hospital germs, with one prominent place being bedrails on patients’ beds, and neglectful hand-washing hygiene. These are all areas that leave what to be desired, but it is disturbing and a whole different story when hospital germs are transmitted to the general public by way of nurses who leave work in their scrubs.


There are many areas that can be blamed for the spread of germs from medical institutions, but if the wearing of the nursing scrub was firmly restricted to the medical environment, invariably germ contamination would be markedly decreased. The Israeli researchers suggested that hospital workers be mandated to change into clean uniforms every day, the use of disposable plastic aprons for messy jobs be mandated, as well as better hand-washing hygiene practices.

It is the responsibility of all those in the medical field, starting from the corporate decision makers in hospitals, down through doctors, nurses, and all workers in a medical facility to ensure that scrubs are worn only at work, and are laundered properly, in the hopes of preventing some of the diseases that are making the rounds.

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