Scrubs Definition: Definitions for the Clothing & Textile Industry

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Scrubs are the shirts and trousers/dresses worn by surgeons, nurses, and other operating room personnel when "scrubbing in" for surgery. The wearing of scrubs has been extended outside of surgery in many hospitals.

History of surgical attire

In contrast to the uniforms required of nurses, surgeons did not wear any kind of specialized garments until well into the 20th century. Surgical procedures were conducted in an "operating theatre" - an amphitheatre- or auditorium-type room with the operation taking place at center stage and spectators or students in the stands. The surgeon wore his street clothes, with perhaps a butcher's apron to protect his clothing from blood stains, and operated bare-handed with non-sterile instruments and supplies. (Chromic gut and silk sutures were sold as open strands with reusable, hand-threaded needles; packing gauze was made from sweepings from the floors of cotton mills.) Far from today's concepts of surgery as a profession that emphasizes cleanliness and conscientiousness, at the turn of the century the mark of a busy and successful surgeon was the profusion of blood and fluids on his clothes.

With the "Spanish flu" pandemic of 1918 and the growing medical interest in Lister's antiseptic theory, some surgeons began wearing cotton gauze masks - not to protect the patient from intra-operative infection, but to protect the surgeon from the patient's diseases. Around the same time, operating theatre staff began wearing heavy rubber gloves to protect their hands from the solutions used to clean the room and equipment, a practice surgeons grudgingly adopted.

By the 1940s, advances in surgical antisepsis (now called aseptic technique) and the science of wound infection led to the adoption of antiseptic drapes and gowns for operating room ("OR") use, and instruments, supplies and dressings were routinely sterilized by exposure to either high-pressure steam or ethylene oxide (EtO) gas.

Originally, OR attire was white to emphasize cleanliness. However, the combination of bright operating lights and an all-white environment led to eyestrain for the surgeon and staff, and additionally, many people found the sight of bright red blood splashes on a white gown or drape rather off-putting. By the 1950s and 1960s, most hospitals had abandoned white OR apparel in favor of various shades of green, which provided a high-contrast environment and reduced eye fatigue.

By the 1970s, surgical attire had largely reached its modern state: cotton short-sleeve shirt and pants or a one-piece calf-length dress ("surgical greens"), a tie-back or bouffant-style cap, a paper or gauze mask, a cloth surgical gown, latex gloves and supportive, closed-toe shoes. Over time, because the OR was considered a "scrubbed" environment, the clothing one wore therein became known as "scrubs".

Modern scrubs

Today, any medical uniform consisting of a short-sleeve shirt and pants is known as "scrubs". Nearly all patient care personnel wear some form of scrubs while on duty, as do some staffers in doctors' offices. These types of scrubs can come in any color or pattern; scrubs featuring cartoon characters and cheerful prints are common in pediatricians' offices and children's hospitals, while prints for various holidays can be seen throughout the year. Scrubs may also include a waist-length long-sleeved jacket with no lapels and stockinette cuffs, known as a "warm-up jacket". Some hospitals use scrub color as a way of quickly identifying a staff member's department, e.g. light blue for Surgery, pink or lavender for Labor and Delivery, dark green or dark blue for Emergency, and so forth.

Scrubs worn in surgery, in contrast, are almost always colored solid light green, light blue or a light green-blue shade known as "seal" or "ciel" blue*. A few hospitals require non-surgical staff (technicians, vendor representatives, etc) to wear different colored scrubs to make them easily identifiable in the surgical unit. Scrubs may have the hospital's name or logo imprinted on them (commonly on pockets or at knees), or they can come in custom colors, e.g. a university hospital may have scrubs in the school's colors.

In contrast to other scrubs, surgical scrubs are rarely owned by the wearer; due to concerns about home laundering and sterility issues, these scrubs are hospital-owned or hospital-leased through a commercial linen service.

Scrubs are also commonly used as the basis for "doctor" or "nurse" costumes.

  • NOTE: "Seal blue" is something of a misleading term, as seals are not blue! There are several theories as to where the term arose; it could be an Anglicization or mispronunciation of "ciel" (Fr. "sky"), a misspelling of either "teal" or "sea" blue, or a reference to a popular manufacturer of scrubs (Fashion Seal). Scrubs of this color can be advertised as either "ciel" or "seal" blue, although most scrub manufacturers now use "ciel blue" as a cognate for "sky blue" and "seal blue" or "mist" as the original blue-green color.

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The above article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ( ).  1/6/06
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