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A Brief History of Medical Apparel

Author: Kevin Smith
by Kevin Smith
Posted: Feb 07, 2017

Uniforms in the medical field have changed significantly over the past 150 years. Today, just about anyone who works in the medical field buys scrubs on a regular basis as part of their uniform. However, not too long ago, scrubs didn't exist and hospital staff had a very different look to them. Surgical staff were the first to use scrubs and the word is derived from the phrase "scrubbing in." Let’s examine the history of scrubs and uniforms in the medical field.

  • 19th Century – Nursing really got its start during the 1800s. This is also when the white uniform that exemplifies the nurse archetype got its start. Doctors on the other hand did not have a set uniform, instead wearing their regular clothes. This was true even of surgeons. They would perform surgery bare handed with almost no protection.
  • Early 20th Century – Around the turn of the century, there was a growing interest in germs and the new antiseptic theory. Some surgeons began to wear gauze masks during surgery, but mostly to protect them from whatever was ailing their patient. As cleanliness became more important, surgeons slowly began to wear gloves as well.
  • 1940s – Throughout and after World War II, numerous advances were made in surgical antisepsis and the science of wound infection. As a result, antiseptic drapes and gowns started to become the standard for operating rooms to help prevent infection.
  • Mid-20th Century – Throughout the middle of the 20th century, surgical apparel changed from bright white to green. This move reduced eye strain for surgical staff by providing more contrast within the room. It also made blood and fluid spatters less noticeable. By the 1970s, most surgical staff were wearing the standard apparel we know today: green, short sleeve top and matching draw-string pants.
  • Today – Throughout the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st century, scrubs quickly became the standard both in and out of the operating room. Many hospitals require that staff only wear scrubs while on duty to help reduce the risk of infection and to reduce the chances of diseases being spread. Other professions, such as veterinary medicine, have also adopted the use of scrubs as well.

The medical field has seen some pretty significant changes in sterilization and infection control practices over the past 150 years. It has gone from surgeons wearing their own clothes and perhaps a butcher’s apron to all medical staff wearing scrubs that are clean, sterile, and easily changed out or replaced when soiled. Unless there is an amazing advance in medical technology, nurses, doctors and other medical professionals will continue to buy scrubs for years.

About the Author

Kevin Smith is a writer and an avid reader. He writes about business, marketing, health, pets, or relationships etc.

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Author: Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith

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United States

Member since: Dec 15, 2016
Total live articles: 526

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