Top 5 interesting facts from the history of medical uniforms.

Joseph Lister

When were uniforms for doctors and nurses designed? Have they always assisted patients in white coats? Why did a blood-stained surgeon gain more authority than a doctor in a clean suit a century ago? We have prepared the Top 5 interesting facts from the history of medical uniforms.


Surgeries — in amphitheaters, surgeons — in casual clothes

For a long time, surgical procedures were carried out in spacious halls that looked like amphitheaters. Numerous tiers were filled with students and other doctors observing the course of operations and their techniques. Today, it seems more than strange, but before the era of asepsis and antisepsis, surgeons, assistants, and nurses performed surgeries in ordinary clothes. If the operation was complicated, an apron with armbands or gloves was worn on top of them. Until the 19th century, blood stains on the surgeon's clothes were considered proof of professionalism and well-done work. The situation changed only after Joseph Lister introduced the basics of asepsis and antisepsis into surgical practice.  


Joseph Lister — the founder of antisepsis and medical gown

The English surgeon is called the founder of antisepsis and asepsis (see pic). Among his initiatives, which fundamentally changed the course of surgical interventions and the mortality statistics from infectious complications, are the transformation of amphitheaters into traditional operating rooms and the mandatory wearing of sterile medical clothing. Not all doctors enthusiastically reacted to the appearance of gowns, specialized scrubs, masks, caps, and gloves. But gradually, new elements of medical clothing became widespread. At the same time, many surgeons primarily sought to protect themselves from possible infections on the part of the patient rather than taking care of their condition.


Nurses began wearing uniforms earlier than doctors

Sisters of Mercy (a Catholic women's institution was founded in 1831 in Ireland), who interacted with the wounded directly on the battlefield, usually wore a specialized white uniform. It became a symbol of purity, compassion, and a guarantee of medical care. Later, white coats appeared in medical institutions. Medical professionals of all levels were obliged to wear them. White color not only ensured discipline and had a calming effect on patients but also provided many advantages to the staff:

  • All stains and dirt are clearly visible on the white uniform, which requires constant maintenance of its absolute cleanliness;
  • White fabric can withstand numerous washes, boiling, processing with chlorine-containing agents and under high pressure;
  • White suits are clearly visible in dark rooms and crowds.


Transformation of white surgical scrubs into green and blue

The operating room is a space with bright, intense lighting. During long interventions, it negatively affects the eyes of surgeons and nurses. In addition, bright lighting combined with white uniforms can lead to an increased load on the visual analyzer and cause temporary blindness.

The use of blue and green uniforms allows for preventing undesirable consequences for medical workers. Since the middle of the 20th century, these shades have been considered a priority for operating room staff as they contrast with the colors of the environment and reduce eye fatigue.


Evolution of medical uniforms as personal protective equipment

Since the 1970s, medical apparel has acquired a modern look. Practical shirts and trousers of various styles and colors began to be made of cotton or mixed fabrics with the addition of polyester. Disposable uniforms have been developed to provide healthcare workers with maximum protection during pandemics. They prevent doctors and nurses from contact with viruses and bacteria, aggressive chemicals and their fumes. Personal protective equipment is used not only by doctors but also by workers of sanitary and epidemiological services, laboratories, and the food industry.


(The illustration was taken from public source wikipedia