Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Scrubs – Almost

Visit your GP’s office and it is a safe bet that everyone working there will be dressed in scrubs. Even the workers behind the glass, the ones who answer the phone and politely ask you to sign in, are more likely than not to wear scrubs. It is just what we have come to expect from the healthcare industry.

As prevalent as scrubs are, not a whole lot of people know where they come from or why healthcare workers wear them. If you are one of those people, you are in for a treat. This article will tell you everything you need to know about scrubs. Well, almost everything. Some details may be left out.

                   A Relatively New Invention

In the long and storied history of healthcare, scrubs are a relatively new invention. They didn’t actually come into their own until the 1970s. So what did workers wear before then?

Here in the U.S., most medical care was provided through a combination of local doctors and volunteers. The volunteers were often religious workers – particularly nuns – which is why we associate 19th-century healthcare workers with women wearing long dresses and aprons.

The first nurse’s uniform was introduced in the mid-1800s and was intended for nursing students. It looked an awful lot like the clothing nuns wore when caring for sick patients.

Over the next 100 years, the nurse’s uniform underwent a gradual evolution. When scrubs were introduced in the 1970s, the days of the nurse’s uniform were numbered. The older uniforms were all but gone by the time the 70s turned into the 80s.

                   Formerly Surgical Greens

Scrubs used to be called surgical greens back in the 70s. Why? ‘Surgical’ because they made their first appearance in surgical suites. ‘Greens’ because early scrubs only came in that color.

It is not clear why green was chosen, but we do know that surgeons had learned decades earlier that the combination of white surgical garments and bright lights caused eye strain. They began wearing darker colors to provide some contrast.

                   Unisex for a Reason

You may have noticed that scrubs tend to be unisex garments. Indeed, it wasn’t until recently that manufacturers began designing separate scrubs for men and women. Back when scrubs were first introduced, they were made as unisex garments for efficiency purposes.

Salt Lake City-based Alsco, a company that specializes in healthcare uniforms, explains that the unisex design makes it easier to provide large quantities of scrubs without having to fit each worker individually. You just need to provide some basic sizes: small, medium, large, and extra-large.

A big metro hospital doesn’t need individualized scrubs for each worker. They just have to order an ample supply of each size. Workers grab a new pair of scrubs off the shelf at the start of the day. They throw them in the laundry bag before going home at the end of their shifts.

                   Workers Provide Their Own

Finally, the practice of healthcare workers providing their own scrubs is more common today. Rather than rent scrubs en mass, some facilities require doctors, nurses, and other workers to purchase their own scrubs. The workers launder the scrubs at home.

This may change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has raised awareness of the risks of traveling to and from work wearing potentially contaminated scrubs. More and more facilities are considering returning to the rental model in order to keep soiled scrubs isolated.

And now you know more about scrubs than you ever knew before. Unless, of course, you are a healthcare worker who wears scrubs for a living.