When the public brings to mind the image of a medical professional, they have one of two outfits in mind: either a white lab coat or scrubs, usually blue ones. But when a medical professional is out of the hospital or lab, what are the implications of wearing the same apparel? Is it dangerous to wear scrubs outside and, if so, to whom?
Wearing a white lab coat can signal that the wearer is a scientist, doctor, a pharmacist, or many other health professions – even certain educators. Scrubs are believed to signal that the wearer is in a job where he or she could encounter hazardous biological material, requiring disposable or easily replaceable attire. However, scrubs are often worn in professions where no biological material is handled, such as medical technicians, x-ray operators, dental and veterinary assistants, massage therapists, some secretaries in medical settings, physical and occupational therapists, and many others.
The two primary dangers of wearing scrubs outdoors of the requisite work environment are contamination and perception. When someone wears scrubs outside of a hospital setting, they may unwittingly be perceived as competent to handle emergency medical situations, simply due to their garb.
Since the media often portrays surgeons as wearing only scrubs–rather than the medically appropriate gowns and guards–there is a concern that those wearing scrubs could either be carrying contagions or be picking up contaminants that will then be brought into sensitive medical settings. Both situations are highly unlikely to be accurate.
The real reasons for wearing scrubs outside of professional settings are as varied as the wearers. Some may wear their scrubs out to impress strangers; others find them comfortable and convenient coverings, dispensed from a vending machine on site, like ScrubTrak. Many hospitals are now discouraging their employees from wearing scrubs outside the workplace, but exceptions persist, such as when a doctor’s own clothing has been impaired in some way. Ultimately, the practice of using scrubs as streetwear isn’t particularly dangerous, and is more of a personal preference.
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