Why Do Nurses Wear Scrubs?

The field of nursing is very diverse from acute care in the hospital setting to outpatient clinics, and over the years the nursing uniform and registered nurse dress code has changed considerably. Although some nurses in outpatient clinics may wear business casual clothing, often times across all settings you’ll see nurses wearing scrubs. This is definitely true in any type of acute care setting. Why is this though? What is the benefit to wearing scrubs? Read on as we take a deeper dive into scrubs in the healthcare setting and explore the many benefits that wearing scrubs offers nurses. 

Why Do Nurses Wear Scrubs

History of Scrubs

Nursing uniforms have changed considerably over the years from the time of Florence Nightingale.  In the 19th century nurses typically worn full black or printed gowns with caps and an apron. As time passed the uniforms changed. For several years a traditional nurse hat was worn along with white dress uniforms for nurses. In the 70s nurse uniforms consisted of white dresses with a closed neck appearance and white caps that were usually made of a disposable paper product. In the 80s nurse uniforms changed again and the aprons previously worn started to disappear and a more open-neck shirt along with pants, instead of skirts, began to appear. Then in the 90s the use of present-day scrubs began to appear in various fabrics and colors. When scrubs became the common dress code they were also designed as both female and male nurse uniforms. 

Can Anyone Wear Scrubs? 

When working in the healthcare setting you’ll often notice many people are wearing scrubs but who are all of those individuals? Do medical assistants wear scrubs? Do doctors wear scrubs? What is a nurse practitioner uniform? In today’s healthcare system you will find that scrubs have become a very common uniform for almost anyone working in the healthcare field. You may find scrubs being worn by doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nursing assistants, lab technicians, pharmacists, and even clerical staff. 

What Healthcare Settings Wear Scrubs?

Scrubs can be worn in a variety of healthcare related settings. Most commonly scrubs are worn on in-patient units and departments or within procedural areas however, scrubs can also be worn in the outpatient setting. Some nurses working in outpatient clinics such as family practice, internal medicine, or pediatrics may also wear scrubs. 

Benefits of Wearing Scrubs

Wearing scrubs offers several different benefits for nurses, healthcare facilities, and the patients being cared for. Let’s look at a few. 

Easily Identifiable

Depending on the facility’s policy, sometimes all team members are required to wear scrubs. In these instances, a policy of scrub color by department is usually implemented as well. This means, as an example, that nurses may be assigned to wear navy blue scrubs, while nursing assistants are assigned black scrubs, and lab technicians may be assigned green scrubs. This system allows for easy identification of healthcare team members and which department they work for. This type of policy is also helpful for patients and studies have shown that patients often prefer this type of system because it allows them to easily identify who they are working with. It also allows patients the ability to quickly identify who they can speak to if they have a question or concern. 

Professional Nurse Attire

Wearing a consistent scrub uniform has also been shown to display a more professional appearance and scrubs have been considered professional nurse attire. Studies have found that patients and family members feel scrubs show professionalism and therefore prefer to see nursing staff in this type of uniform. This further helps to provide the patients and family members with another level of comfort in the care they are receiving from that particular healthcare team member. 


Nursing outfits for hospitals must always be cleaned well, usually with hot water and sometimes chemicals. Repeatedly washing items in this manner often can wear the fabric out quickly, thankfully though scrubs allow for this. Scrubs are usually made with more durable fabrics than normal daily clothing so these can withstand frequent washing at high temperatures and with harsh chemicals to help prevent any further spread of infections. 


A nurse’s shift can often be very long and involve a multitude of tasks involving constant movement.  Therefore, it makes the most sense for registered nurse clothing to be something that is comfortable and that allows the nurse the ability to easily complete their work. Scrubs are often considered that type of clothing as there are a variety of brands and styles available and so there is essentially one for every person and body type. 

Another common question tends to be can you wear long sleeves under scrubs? This is another benefit of the various scrub brands that currently exist. Most brands also offer some form of long-sleeved undershirt if a nurse prefers to wear that as well. Likewise, scrub companies also have jackets to wear over scrubs. This is an added benefit too because the jackets usually have pockets as well so it allows the nurse to have extra storage for supplies. 


As alluded to previously, scrubs are also very functional. They usually have several pockets throughout both tops and bottoms and sometimes even places to clip additional nursing supplies. This is a huge benefit to nurses as nurses tend to carry a lot of different types of supplies with them to minimize the interruptions in patient care requiring them to return to the supply room. 

Skin Protection

Scrubs also offer a layer of skin protection for nurses. As mentioned earlier, scrubs are usually made from more durable fabrics which also tends to be a thicker material. This then decreases the chances of liquids penetrating the scrubs and coming into contact with the nurse’s skin. The risk of patient’s bodily fluids or other liquid spills on the unit hurting the nurse’s skin or spreading infection is then also decreased.   

Do Nurses Buy Their Own Scrubs?

The supply of scrubs can vary depending on each facility. Some hospitals will require that all nurses and other healthcare team members provide their own scrubs. On the other hand, there will also be facilities in which hospital issued scrubs are provided to team members. This is often the case for specific, specialized types of units as such as procedural areas (i.e. same day surgery, cardiac cath labs, or the operating room). Sometimes providing scrubs for employees is the preferred method as this then allows the hospital the ability to ensure proper cleaning of uniforms is occurring, and it limits healthcare team members wearing contaminated scrubs out into the general public setting.

Final Thoughts

As you can see the use of scrubs is beneficial for many people. It simplifies the dress code for healthcare providers, particularly nurses, while also providing a professional, sanitary uniform. Overall, patients and family members report feeling more comfortable when seeing nurses in this type of uniform and it allows nurses to move and be as functionable as possible throughout their shift. In an era of new infections, it is comforting to know there are good, safe options available for nursing uniforms that will allow for thorough, frequent cleaning.

Written by
Tabitha Cumpian