Scrubs are a uniform that generally consists of a simple, cotton, short-sleeved shirt and drawstring pants. They are worn in a medical environment. The name scrubs is derived from the practice of physicians thoroughly washing or scrubbing their hands before performing surgery. Traditionally, scrubs are light green, but modern doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are choosing scrubs in brighter colors and even patterns.
It’s hard to believe, but up until the end of the 19th century, surgeons performed operations dressed in street clothing, which they covered with an apron similar to those worn by butchers. Operating rooms were no more than large auditoriums, and surgeries were performed without the benefit of a sterile environment. Surgeons did not wash their hands before operating, and instruments were not sterilized. It is no wonder, then, that in the middle of the 19th century, nearly 50% of surgical patients died of sepsis.
Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, was concerned about the number of deaths among his post-surgical patients. He began studying the work of Louis Pasteur, who had been doing bacterial research, and as a result, Lister began using carbolic acid to clean patients’ wounds. After nine months, his patients were no longer dying of sepsis, and ultimately he began operating in antiseptic conditions.
Antiseptic procedures were slow to catch on, however, and despite the fact that nurses had begun to wear white uniforms in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the 1940s that surgeons began routinely wearing special clothing in the operating room. Early surgical clothing consisted of gowns and surgical drapes, and these were customarily made of white cotton. However, white clothing was found to reflect light, and in the 1950s, the switch was made to green.
The simple green scrub suit first became popular in the 1970s. Medical personnel found the uniform comfortable and functional. Hospital administrators were also impressed with how cost-effective scrubs were, as well as with their easy maintenance.
Today, many hospitals use a variety of colors to differentiate between departments, while surgical scrubs continue to be primarily green. Pediatric staff often wear scrubs decorated with cartoon characters, putting their young patients and their parents at ease. Many medical office personnel also wear scrubs. In addition, scrubs are also sold as casual wear and sleepwear.