What are Medical Uniforms?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Medical uniforms, particularly for nurses, used to be subject to very rigid standards. It’s difficult to forget the fitted white dresses and white hats of nurses in past years. More recently, however, most nurses and doctors tend to wear scrubs. Scrubs are a pair of cotton or cotton/polyester pants with a drawstring, accompanied by a short sleeved, v-neck top of the same material.

Occasionally medical uniforms still include the white coat indicating one is a doctor, or nurse practitioner (NP). In teaching hospitals, length of the coat may indicate whether one is speaking to a licensed doctor, nurse practitioner, or intern. Usually a longer coat means one is more highly trained, though this may vary in different hospitals.

Often, white coats make up the medical uniforms worn by various trained professionals like radiologists or sonographers. The white coat is meant to protect ordinary street clothes that are most often worn by those not having all day, close contact with patients.

In general, if a doctor, NP or intern is not wearing scrubs, they do not wear medical uniforms but do adhere to a dress code. Ordinarily, those not wearing scrubs will wear what might be termed business casual: slacks, button down shirt, and a tie. Female workers may wear a blouse and slacks or skirt, or a dress.


Hospitals may make specific recommendations for medical uniforms, but generally the most important part of medical uniforms is not the clothing one wears but one’s badge, indicating a person is an employee of the hospital. Not wearing a badge is considered a serious offense, since in the past those impersonating hospital personnel have stolen medication, hurt patients, and on very rare occasions have attempted to take babies. If one is hospitalized and sees an employee not wearing a badge, one should request to see it before allowing any medical procedures.

Scrubs became the popular choice in medical uniforms because most doctors and nurses work exceptionally long hours, and should have access to comfortable clothing. Surgeons and surgical nurses always wear scrubs when in operating rooms. They also may need to quickly change if they are exposed to blood, or other bodily fluids. Early scrubs tended to be either green or light blue. Nurses often wore a more feminine color like peach or pink.

Medical uniforms got a new boost when manufacturers began to offer scrubs in prints of varying kinds. These became frequent choices of those working with children. Scrubs with bears, racecars, clowns, rabbits, or even popular TV cartoon characters were thought to reduce fear in hospitalized children. In pediatrician’s offices, nurses or medical assistants frequently wear decorated scrubs.

Choosing patterns meant that aside from wearing scrubs of some kind, there were few limits on medical uniforms. Some hospitals may still employ a color system for scrubs, but most now allow doctors and nurses to choose whatever strikes their fancy in the hopes that this personalizes the hospital experience for patients.

Most nurses and doctors must purchase their own medical uniforms. However, there are usually extra scrubs on hand should a medical worker need to change his or her clothing. One can find medical uniforms at specially designated stores in most mid-size to large towns. The Internet is also a great place to find varied selection, patterns, and hard to find sizes.


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