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Nursing Scrubs: A Historical Perspective for You

May 24, 2008
So you watch a popular TV show, which reminds you of surgical attire? If you want to know more about the origin of scrubs or nursing scrubs, which are worn by medical staff including surgeons and nurses, you have come to the right place. We will look at the origin and modern use of nursing scrubs, or scrubs worn by nurses and other medical attendants in this article.

Many people must have seen nursing scrubs worn by operating room personnel and nurses, but most do not know that there is scientific reason behind the purpose of wearing scrubs. Nursing scrubs serve a basic function of providing clean and sterile uniforms to the nurses at hospitals.

The word scrubs has its origin in the act of scrubbing in for surgery in operating rooms, in order to maintain the level of sterility required for the surgical environment. It is of vital importance that the clothes worn by the doctor or nurse, and other external materials, are devoid of any kind of germs or pathogen, minimizing the risk of any septic infection to the patient. This is especially so inside an OR.

The use of nursing scrubs by nurses and medial personnel is mandatory inside the operation theatre. Most hospitals require all medial personnel of the hospital to wear these nursing scrubs, outside the OR as well, as this safeguards the overall sterile atmosphere of the hospital or clinic.

Historically speaking, nursing scrubs came into being in the early 20th century, before which there was no standard practice of wearing nursing scrubs or scrubs at hospitals. There were terrible standards of cleanliness and the manner of conducting surgery, with minimum or no sterilization at all, was appalling.

The spread of secondary infection risked the patients life seriously. The wide spread outbreak of the Spanish Flu in the year 1918 combined with the growing medical concern about Listers Antiseptic Theory, some surgeons, began wearing masks and operating theatre staff began wearing rubber gloves, to minimize contact based infections. Over time, advances in science of wound infection and surgical antisepsis led to antiseptic gowns and drapes becoming a uniform for the operating room.

This lead to the development of a specific clean overall type clothes for the operating room personnel. Nursing scrubs gained acceptance as the best solution for the sterilization problem. The nurses and doctors came wearing their clothes from an external environment, and after they changed into these clean and sterile nursing scrubs, kept at the hospitals, there was minimum risk of the spread of external germs to the patient.

The original attire was to emphasize cleanliness and hence was white, but the bright operating lights and all white environment together became a visual strain, and the splashes of blood on the white clothes was not very pleasant. By the mid 20th century, many hospitals had done away with white operating room clothing to favor various shades of green, which were easy on the eye.

Today, nursing scrubs come in a variety of colors, and some hospitals have a system of departmental allotment of color for nursing scrubs. Nursing scrubs in childrens wards and elderly care units have bright and cheerful patterns on them. The modernization of this sterile medical uniform has come full circle today.
About the Author
Max Johnson of The Uniform Connection. Click for more Nursing Scrubs.
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