Scrubs In Public: Do Or Don’t?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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We hate to break it to you, but wearing your hospital scrubs home could actually be a hazard. Health officials are concerned that deadly new “superbugs” spreading in some hospitals (think MRSA) can be transmitted unwittingly by those hospital staffers who wear their scrubs outside the building. The recent outbreak of CRE illustrates the importance of preventing the spread of superbugs.

Some hospitals have taken action, requiring staffers to change out of their scrubs before they leave the building. Some offer free scrubs laundry services to ensure that people outside the facility aren’t exposed.

Meanwhile, scrubs manufacturers are working on a number of solutions, including antimicrobial fabric and airtight bags for nurses to transport their scrubs straight from the medical facility to their washing machine.

So, what’s your reaction when you see medical personnel out in the world wearing scrubs? And are you a nurse who does? What kinds of reactions do you get from people in the grocery store? In the subway? On the street?


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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40 COMMENTS

  1. I worked in the ER in the early 80s and when a woman was raped, we took her clothes for evidence, but gave her a pair of hospital scrubs to wear home when she was discharged. So, if we ever saw someone on the street with scrubs on, only the hospital personnel knew the real story. So, besides all the germs, I wouldn’t wear scrubs in public, on purpose. A few years down the road, in the 90s, I was working in a different state, but in the ER and the hospital didn’t want to provide scrubs to save on costs…..I contacted a local TV reporter, a friend of mine at the time, and a big story on the news about nurses bringing germs home to their families, allowed the hospital to continue providing scrubs to the ER staff for the time being!

  2. Have we all forgotten our microbiology class???? I know my first lab was to wipe a wet cotton swab anywhere in the room or outside hallway and then plate it on agar. Every kind of bacteria known to man grew and probably a lot of unknowns. Have we also forgot about the physiology of the immune system? We build up our immune systems by being exposed to other germs/bugs. For example back in 1989 or 90 I was exposed to MRSA and I did a screen because I had a sinus issue at the time I tested positive, no surprise there. I was also told I would colonize it the rest of my life. Fast forward to today I was tested this summer because I was going to be hospitalized after minor back surgery the screen of my nasal swab was negative. My point there are bacteria every where some good some bad and if we have a healthy immune system we will be fine. Please people stop being so germaphobic and stay healthy so your immune system stays healthy. Also realize we can’t be responsible for everyone who gets sick in our community.

  3. Not everyone wearing scrubs is involved w/ supergerms. I work in a School Nurse’s Office and I wear scrubs. I am around kids all day. To me it is like a regular outfit but w/ extra pockets. Over 600 kids could come running thru my office and only 2 being sick. Does that mean I’m now carrying the super virus in my scrubs? All the teachers could be carrying that same bug in their clothing that I could be in my scrubs. I can see it if you work in a hospital, however not everyone does. Please keep that in mind.

    • Dear Monique,
      FLASH, schools are the worst environment for GERMS and infectious processes. Children are serious carriers of every bug in the world. Seriously, years ago they would not allow children in to visit hospitalized patients, secondary to them carrying germs etc. etc.
      Dump your scrubs in the garage when you get home.
      Thanks,
      Barb (operating room nurse, and old school nurse also)

      • That would also go for every teacher and student. There is no practical way to deal with this. Before the day of scrubs when we all wore uniforms, we didn’t change. My solution has always been covers or lab coats. I wear one in patient care and a different one home. I am not all that comfortable about wearing something only slightly above my pajamas to work let alone in public. That being said changing clothes 4 times a day just isn’t practical.

    • I can’t even really see it if you work in a hospital. Where in the heck do we think these infected people were before they were hospitalized??? In our schools, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, post offices … just everywhere. The germs are already out there, folks. As FNP said… they are everywhere. I, for one, hate to see the extremes germaphobic people go to in order to feel safe – it borders on obsessive behavior. If scrubs have visible stool or blood on them… yeah, don’t go to the store. But otherwise – we’re not carrying anything new out there. It is already on the last can of tomatoes someone else picked up…

  4. I worked in surgery where we had to change so scrubs stay in hospital & we didn’t bring anything (dog hair etc) into the OR but that only applied to the nurses. For some reason the lab, MD’s, x-ray personnel & others are thought not to be transporting germs into or out of the hospital. I still don’t understand that.

  5. Like everything, I believe this 100% about money. It saves the hospital/clinic/facility money if the employees have to buy and launder their own scrubs. Also, the facility would have to provide areas where staff could shower and change clothes. Lastly, staff would insist on being able to clock in BEFORE having to dress into said uniform and shower and change out of it.

    I think YES that IS the way it should be, but everyone knows that at hospitals, the least amount of money goes to actually paying the worker staff.

  6. What about Home Health Nurses !! If going from home to home how will we stop the spread of “Bugs”??
    We can with our hands, on a daily basis that’s about it !! The patients go home with the Superbugs, and some do not know it. So, this leaves a question that is hard to answer. (Completely).

  7. Way back when I worked in critical care we wore our street clothes in then changed into scrubs and changed back into street clothes as the conclusion of the shift and the facility did the laundry. I think scrubs should be left in the hospital/nursing home and laundered by the facility. In the age of superbugs, MRSA, VRE, C-diff, ESBL…let’s leave them in the institution. I am not impressed when I see a person in the shopping center or grocery store wearing scrubs…in fact I think EEK and what’s worse is when someone wearing scrubs on the “outside” is holding a child next to the scrubs! Let’s keep the scrubs in the hospital and have the facility do the laundry!

  8. When we had to start buying our own scrubs, I washed mine separately from other wash at home and ironed them. I ironed them because I was taught that ironing linens killed a lot of bacteria. Then they were brought to work in a plastic bag and placed in my locker. I am an old nurse, 53 years and counting. In my current nursing job as an in-home infusion nurse of specialty medications, I generally wear washable street clothes. I don’t wear a lab coat either as too often I see them worn as a symbol rather than a safety measure. I am not dealing with infectious patients anymore and my clothes are as clean as if I wore scrubs in my car to drive to my patients’ homes. I wash my hands, wear gloves, and otherwise use the techniques all nurses should use to keep my patients and myself healthy.

  9. What about the visitors? It’s true, these patients arrive at the hospital with these germs, are put on contact precautions and are discharged like nothing is wrong! It is called universal precautions. I leave the hospital sometimes for my lunch break and walk over to subway. There isn’t time to be changing your clothes to go eat lunch and then change again after lunch! We barely have time to eat at all! This is absolute nonsense. I cannot think of anytime when I say that close to someone else in a restraunt, no one has ever come up to me and rubbed my scrubs and I have not witnessed anyone rubbing or licking their seat before they sat down.

  10. Interesting article, but it’s a little narrow in its scope. While infection control is important, there are other issues.
    Like workplace violence. Too many people see nurses as legitimate targets, and some folks have a grievance, real or imagined, and it doesn’t make sense to wear that target on your back in public.

    Then there’s personal behavior. If your employer requires you to wear scrubs embroidered with their logo, you have to remember that everything you do and say reflects on the organization – for better or worse. When you wear their brand, you have to be careful about your demeanor.

    I never saw a nurse in scrubs in public as unprofessional. I see her as a colleague, indeed a hero, who is also human. But if, God forbid, some emergency happens and she’s there in her scrubs, suddenly she’s got a duty to intervene, and possible in ways she’s not skilled in.

    On the other hand, there have been occasions where I got something I didn’t deserve – a warning from the kind police officer, and not a citation – because I wore scrubs.

    • I think what you wrote is off point, but you have mentioned valid issues. I HAVE seen unprofessional behavior from people wearing scrubs in public. I, personally, don’t believe everyone wearing them is a person related to the medical field. I think they are wannabes.
      Yes, a nurse, in scrubs or not, may be called to answer an emergency she is not skilled in, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t assist in the best way we know how. “Good Samaritan Law”
      I’m curious as to why a policeman would give you a warning about something you didn’t deserve? You mentioned it, explain it.
      I don’t work with patients who are carrying super bugs or even minor super bugs. But, having said that, I also don’t become OCD with germs. I live by the old saying, we’ll all eat a peck of dirt before we die. I’m never sick. I’m careful but not obsessed.

  11. Ok I am an old NICU nurse. We always wore hospital laundered scrubs. We didn’t buy our own or wear our own. Every thing changed when they decided scrubs don’t carry germs. Now this. Just proves the old school ways are best! ???

  12. I think it all depends on what you do. I work in a DD facility, to me it’s like home with my kids. Plus, scrubs got me out of paying a speeding ticket in traffic court one day.

  13. Interesting that nurses started wearing scrubs because they were easier to “clean”. The whole idea of the lab coat was to wear to work to keep uniform clean from the outside “germs”, then wear it home to keep your things and family safe. Now the lab coat is a prestige item that is worn daily and rarely washed which is even more dangerous to the hospital and self. Another unsafe object that nurses use is their stethoscope which they put around their neck all day then throw on the floor of their car and then use again the next day. What happened to wash hands, wash hands, wash hands? What about the ink pen you keep in your pocket and pull out with your gloved hand to write something down in the patient room then put back in you pocket then later your purse/pocket and then go home. Anyway I don’t think there is a real answer but those who think they are not contaminated in some way (such as radiologist, PT, respiratory, nurses, doctors) just do not understand the problem. Most people don’t even know if you are a nurse or not because everyone does wear scrubs. Don’t worry about what people think of you but what you are doing to stop the spread of the “germs”. A nurse must protect the public as well as the patient and their own families and self.

  14. Having been a nurse for 35 years, I don’t think we would have as much of a problem with super bugs if we still practiced the way I and many other nurses were taught in school. All patients were bathed everyday and their bed linens changed daily. At that time, gloves were not worn all the time so we washed our hands all the time. I remember seeing old movies where the nurses changed their clothes before leaving the hospital. Maybe if we still did some of these things (and doctors hadn’t over prescribed antibiotics), we wouldn’t have the super bug problem today.

  15. I agree with the article 100%. However, anyone, besides nurses, can get a set of scrubs at Walmart, Kmart, etc. People buy scrubs for casual wear. I see hospital employees wearing their hospital scrubs (the shirt has the hospital’s name) to do mechanic work on their vehicles or take their child to a soccer game. Where’s the control??

  16. I see people in scrubs at stores all the time. Most look like they are not healthcare professionals. People buy them at the dollar store and wear them as everyday clothes. How do you deal with that. And there are a lot of healthcare professionals who wear scrubs but are not in an area that is going to be “contaminating”. Surgery changes into scrubs when they get to work. Mental Health workers wear scrubs but don’t deal with the same level of “germs”.

  17. I ‘ve been a nurse 40 yrs was taught never wear scrubs,uniforms to stores or markets,unprofessional,if you can’t change cover with a lab coat.I bring a change of clothes with me.when I see scrubs I think,”wonder where they have been?”

    • That’s crazy Patricia. If I have something contagious, I can still spread it in normal clorhes. Universal precautions is taught at all nursing facilities. Some of you people need to get a life. I work in health care, stop to the store on my way home from work. Doesn’t make sense to go home, change and go back out again, unless I was visably soiled. Germs won’t jump from my uniform to your street clothes.

      • That’s just insane, Doris. You sound like Tb Annie. You’re smearing c diff and MRSA all over the fruit bins where little kids like to lick? Have a little compassion!

        • Tim, sorry to break it to you, but the patients have already spread c-diff and MRSA on the veggies and fruit. For example, a previous patient of mine who had been in and out of the hospital for colitis that complicated by c-diff that would not go away sees me at the super market and stops to say hi. I ask him how he’s doing and he explained that the c-diff is still giving him trouble. That he is going to be admitted to another hospital for a stool transplant. We were having this conversation as I was picking out some scallions. Needless to say I left the store without buying anything.

  18. I agree with S. I worked at a hospital where I witnessed a nurse get body fluids on her scrubs during a code blue, she asked if the hospital had a set of scrubs she could borrow, they refused. She was told she should have had an extra set in her locker – our lockers barely fit a purse. A set of scrubs would have to be folded a dozen times to make fit, let alone what they would look like.
    Ann also makes a good point these super bugs are in the community, patients get sent home with MRSA VRE and other bugs all the time. They also come into the hospital positive for these bugs all the time without knowing they are carrying or spreading anything.

  19. Superbugs, humbug, and any other type of bugs are everywhere and it is not just with health care workers. I have been in health care for over 20 years and have not got sick or heard of anybody else getting sick because of us wearing our scrubs from work. With good universal precautions and hand washing I believe it’s okay. Besides we don’t know what germs the person who is standing beside us in the grocery store, in regular clothes may be carrying. But that’s just my opinion.

  20. Hello,
    I am on the fence with this one. I agree if the person is coming from work, and they have been exposed or potentially.. They should change.. But what about the nurse who is running into the store before work to grab a cup of joe? Must we make her life even more hectic by making her leave 15/20 min earlier for work to change?

  21. I am a Home Health and Hospice nures. It is not practical for me to change even if I wanted to do so. Using good technique and providing known patients with MDRO kit are important. It is also important to remember that hospital patient with superbugs go home- they are everywhere in the community. It is not just healthcare worker who may be spreading superbugs!

      • No way! Totally impractical. I am also a home health nurse. I live in Texas and most of the time it hits upper 90s and above. Besides, I am getting in and out of my car. An apron for each patient? You’ve got to be kidding me. The best I can do is carry one or two extra sets of scrubs in the car and change if I’ve been in an especially dirty environment. I will not change at the patient’s house, I have to hunt for a public restroom. I carry antibacterial hospital grade wipes, bleach, and other cleaning supplies. Home health nurses have to navigate biting dogs, shedding cats, hoarder environments where not only are you unable to sit to conduct an interview, there is no flat surface to lay out your supplies. We sit on the floor to do would care on morbidly obese patients including 4 layer wraps, wound vacs, soaking their feet, etc. If I have to drag a chair, a stool, a TV tray table, my toolkit and a 50 lb bag of bandage supplies up 3 flights of stairs……it gets pretty ridiculous.

  22. Not everyone who wears scrubs are exposed to super bugs. I wear scrubs to work everyday as I am in the imaging field but I work in a private practice where I’m not exposed to hospital germs. That doesn’t make me contagious and this article will make me and others like myself a target for those who are germophibic.

    • How, exactly, do you ensure that the multitude of patients who come through your door for imaging do not have an a symptomatic case of MRSA? Or drug resistant tuberculosis? You may be exposed, and never know, because your immune system is strong enough to shrug off the exposure.

  23. Household wash machines often cannot reach required temperature that kill superbugs and spores. Industrial laundry where hospital linen is processed reaches temps needed. They are monitored for these features.
    Good luck getting profit driven corporations and those that claim not for profit for tax purposes to provide scrubs for people in surgery and the rest of the hospital. It cuts into their cost and profit.
    Only when regulated with Joint Commision or other accrediting bodies will most execs comply.

  24. I cringe, for all the reasons listed in the article. Further, it conveys the wrong impression. You look haggard, tired, scrubs wrinkled or evidently unclean at the end of 12-16 hr shift. The typical person who sees that on the street doesn’t think “Boy, she looks bad. Must of had a really bone cruncher day”. My guess would be is that most people think “Geez, she looks awful. It isn’t very professional. I hope that she is never my nurse.” While that takes some conjecture on my part, the typical person has no idea what we do. Thus, average Joe Public has no frame of reference to think critically about an appearance.

  25. I believe that scrubs should stay in Hospital/clinics to prevent bacteria/germs from leaving. Also, when I return home I immediately take off my shoes and leave at door for same reason.

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