Within the medical community, attire like scrubs serve both a practical and symbolic purpose. They are designed to provide ease of movement, comfort, and hygiene for those working in healthcare environments. They also note the wearer’s role as a member of the medical team, inspiring trust in the eyes of patients.

Donning their OUM scrubs are Dr. David Mountford, Associate Dean for Australia, and (from left) Class of 2023 graduates Dr. Juliana Chewlit, Dr. Uila Laifa-Lima, and Dr. Helena Taeu Masipau.

As the transition from student to physician can be emotionally and mentally daunting, the act of wearing scrubs is not just practical, it also helps med students begin seeing themselves as medical professionals — one day. As the next generation of physicians, medical students understand that donning scrubs signifies their dedication to the art and science of medicine. It is a key part of their induction into the profession and a symbol of the profound responsibility and privilege that come with being a doctor, making them an indispensable feature of medical education.

When and where do OUM medical students wear scrubs?

In the context of medical education, scrubs are more than just a uniform. When our students put on their Oceania University of Medicine scrubs, they point out to those around them their chosen path as future doctors and ensure a professional and consistent appearance for all of our students. Branded scrubs also introduce and promote OUM to the medical and allied health professionals our students come in contact with, as well as the patients they help to treat at each of their clinical rotation sites. And it is those teaching hospitals and clinical facilities that dictate the wearing of scrubs by medical students. Each of OUM’s regional teaching facilities, located in Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada, have different guidelines. While some have no restrictions, some hospitals require rotating medical students to wear the hospital’s own scrubs during their rotations. In North America, wearing scrubs is typically restricted to medical students rotating through surgery or obstetrics. During other rotations, a white lab coat worn over business attire is preferred.

So, what are scrubs?

Scrubs are simple, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that typically consists of a matching top and pants. For OUM students, we offer customized medical scrubs that showcase the university’s logo. The logo placement on their scrubs also introduces their patients, clinical instructors, allied health professionals, and students from other institutions to their medical school.

What are scrubs made of?

Scrubs are designed to facilitate ease of movement, withstand frequent washing, help prevent contamination, and minimize the spread of pathogens. Frequently worn by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, scrubs are also common professional attire among veterinarians, dentists, and home health aides.

Research Findings: The importance of scrubs to medical students

As mentioned, wearing scrubs plays an important part in helping medical students develop their professional identity. In a study published in BMJ Open, the publication of the British Medical Association, medical students noted the ways in which scrubs affected how their peers, supervisors, and patients perceived them. They also commented on the emotional and professional impact of wearing scrubs, namely that their attire helped them with their personal evolution into becoming physicians. The research also identified the logistical and relational effects of wearing scrubs.

  • Emotional and Psychological Effects: The study findings indicate that wearing scrubs evokes predominantly positive emotions among medical students. These emotions include heightened confidence, motivation, and a sense of responsibility. Students expressed that wearing scrubs made them enthusiastic and motivated to pursue their dream of becoming a physician.
  • Logistical Effects: Respondents also discussed the practical reasons for wearing scrubs during their clinical experiences and training. The key logistical benefits mentioned were comfort and functionality, ease of movement, and the convenience of having multiple pockets for equipment storage.
  • Relational Effects: Medical students also reflected on how their scrubs affected how others perceived them. They emphasized that wearing their medical school’s scrubs contributed to positive patient interactions. Patients perceived healthcare providers as more trustworthy, which, in turn, encouraged open communication during history-taking and medical discussions.

A “universal language”

Other benefits of wearing scrubs as a medical student, as noted in the research, include team cohesion, professionalism, and cultural sensitivity. It can enhance cooperation and mutual trust, crucial for effective patient care. For medical students, donning scrubs signifies joining a team of seasoned medical professionals, helping them become familiar with the attire they will wear in their future workplaces. The uniformity of scrubs is also useful in culturally diverse healthcare settings where names and titles may be unfamiliar, helping patients and families identify who is providing care. Wearing scrubs serves as a universal language that transcends cultural barriers and promotes a sense of unity among medicine’s global workforce.

* Thank you to Scrubs IQ of Melbourne, Australia for their important contributions to this blog post.

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