While scrubs weren't always a sure sign of a career in healthcare, today they are pretty much synonymous with that environment. Scrubs typically consist of a short-sleeved shirt and drawstring pants that can be manufactured in almost any color or pattern imaginable. They got their name from their original wearers, surgeons, as they worked in a sanitary or “scrubbed" environment.
Historically, most healthcare professionals wore uniforms and
surgeons got to wear their own clothing. After the Spanish flu pandemic in the
early 1900s, surgeons and medical personnel became more aware of how quickly infections
can spread and began wearing masks to protect themselves from disease
transmission. In the 1940s, sanitizing tools and equipment became the standard
in operating rooms as a way to prevent infections or bacteria from spreading.
White was chosen as the color for all medical uniforms, as it is often
associated with cleanliness. Any dirt or staining would immediately show and
serve as a reminder to launder or change clothing before interacting with
Uniforms moved away from the blinding sterility of white after the combination of white walls, white lights, and all white apparel was found to cause eyestrain in many hospital surgeons and staff. Operating room attire transitioned in the 1960s to a green color palette that reduced eyestrain and made stains less obvious. The green uniforms for surgeons became standard in the 70s and inspired much of the design of today's scrubs. Many of today's nursing and surgical scrubs are to ensure cleanliness and sterility are maintained. Fabrics are designed to be easily cleaned of any blood or bodily fluids they encounter.
The uniforms implemented in the 70s were only one color,
green. While this made scrubs easy to order, it made it impossible to
differentiate between departments and jobs within the hospital. Today’s scrubs
are available in more colors and patterns, making it far easier to distinguish
between different departments. Next time you are at the hospital, you might see
different colors for people working in the emergency room, the labor and
delivery ward, or pediatrics. Almost everyone working in a healthcare environment
today wears scrubs!
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