Being “old school,” I don’t like to see people wearing scrubs outside of the hospital. But there is no evidence that bacteria on scrubs spread disease, and a large number of ancillary hospital personnel wear scrubs.

Every few months when things are slow, someone publishes an article about the imaginary dangers associated with doctors wearing scrubs in public. A recent version is from The Atlantic. An associate editor saw some people in scrubs having lunch in a restaurant and was, of course, horrified. She questioned the magazine’s medical editor, Dr. James Hamblin, whose response was remarkably reasoned (until the end).

He pointed out that it might not have been doctors because everyone, including secretaries (and even custodial people in my hospital), now wears scrubs to work. Dr. Hamblin rightly added that there is a lot of debate about the issue. He speculated that some guys wear scrubs in public as a signal to women that they are doctors.

But at the end of the piece, he said it was OK if his colleague were to “tell off” the people she saw eating lunch in scrubs.

Since I’ve been married for 38 years, I don’t need to wear scrubs in public to attract women. Anyway, they tend to flock to me even when I’m dressed in civilian clothing.

Being “old school,” I don’t like to see people wearing scrubs outside the hospital. I just think it sends the wrong message — and what’s worse, it continues to provoke folks into writing letters, blogs, and newspaper and magazine columns full of indignation.

However, I can’t get worked up about this, and here’s why: Yes, bacteria can be found on scrubs. But one has to wear something to work, and whatever one wears can occasionally become contaminated. After all, it is a hospital. There is no evidence that bacteria on scrubs spread disease. Nor is there evidence that bacteria on other objects such as ties, white coats, cell phones, stethoscopes, computer keyboards, or numerous other articles shown to be contaminated has made people sick.

In addition to the large number of ancillary hospital personnel who wear scrubs, here are some others: my dentist and his staff, including his secretary and his hygienists, and my dog’s veterinarian, his secretaries and the guy who holds my terrified dog.

I don’t see a simple solution to this problem. Scrubs are sold in stores. Anyone can buy them. They come in all colors. A nurse at my hospital wears a set of desert camouflage scrubs with a matching backpack. I don’t know how to tell him that the desert camo doesn’t work. It’s easy to spot him as he stands out rather clearly amid the solid colors of the unit’s walls and the white sheets on the beds. He would blend in better if he could find a set of “hospital beige” colored scrubs.

I would also suggest that telling people off is 1) rude and 2) possibly hazardous to your health. You never know what that person you’re telling off might do when confronted.

What do you think about wearing scrubs outside the hospital?

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.