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5 Reasons Why Doctors Only Wear Blue Or Green Scrubs

5 Reasons Why Doctors Only Wear Blue Or Green Scrubs

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Scrubs are a ubiquitous part of medical professionals’ attire, with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff donning these functional garments daily.

Typically, blue or green are the chosen colours for scrubs, and you might be wondering why doctors seem to pretty much only wear these shades.

Doctors primarily wear blue or green scrubs due to the fact these colours reduce eye strain for surgeons and contrast highly with the reds and pinks prominent in an operation. This reduces the chance of surgical error by improving the operating doctor’s vision.

I’ve been wearing scrubs for years as a doctor and honestly hadn’t realised there was such a practical reason behind the colour of scrubs!

It turns out this colour choice is both practical and scientific, contributing to the efficiency and success of the procedures undertaken by healthcare professionals.

History Of Scrub Colours

In the early days of modern medicine, scrubs used to be white, symbolising cleanliness.

However, this choice of colour proved to be too harsh on surgeons’ eyes, particularly during long procedures under bright lights.

If you’ve ever been in an operating theatre, you’ll know just how bright the lights can be.

It’s crucial for surgeons to be able to see every detail of the field they’re operating in and I can only imagine how blinding it could be if all the drapes, scrubs and walls were white too!

Doctors wearing white scrubs in the 1940s

This led to the adoption of different colours for scrubs, with doctors in the early 20th century starting to choose green because it appeared to be easier on the eyes.

This shift in scrub colours continued throughout the 20th century, with the sight of blue and green scrubs becoming commonplace by the 1950s.

During the 1970s, there were more changes to scrub colours, with greys, blacks and even pinks appearing in the workplace, but blue and green remained popular choices across the medical community.

Today, these colours are the norm for medical professionals worldwide and are likely what you think of when you imagine the stereotypical doctor or surgeon.

1. Reducing Eye Strain

The first of the five reasons why doctors generally only wear blue or green scrubs is that these colours help doctors reduce eye strain, especially during long surgeries and procedures.

The environment in an operating room typically includes bright lights and white surroundings but this combination can cause significant eye strain for surgeons and staff if they’re wearing white apparel as well.

Why Doctors Only Wear Blue Or Green Scrubs Pixel Infographic

As I mentioned, by the 1950s, the trend of wearing blue or green scrubs emerged as it was found to be more soothing to the eyes in such settings.

The choice of blue or green scrubs is an outcome of the study of colour perception. These colours have been found to be more comfortable to look at for extended periods of time.

Additionally, blue and green colours are less reflective than white, resulting in reduced glare under bright lights.

This combination of factors makes it easier for medical professionals to maintain their focus on their work.

2. Stain Concealment

Another benefit of wearing blue or green scrubs is that they can hide stains and discolouration better than white clothing.

Green and blue scrubs are particularly effective in hiding bloodstains and other fluids, ensuring that medical professionals look neat and clean despite being involved in often messy surgical procedures.

Moreover, frequent washing and bleaching of white linens weaken the fabric, whereas coloured scrubs are more resilient in this aspect.

Scrubs are generally washed at high temperatures after every single use- so you can imagine the strain this can put on the fabric.

The fact of the matter is white will just immediately show any sort of stain- whether it’s a doctor spilling coffee down their front or blood from a patient.

While soiling will still be visible on coloured scrubs, they will have a longer lifespan and so need to be replaced by a hospital less often.

3. Visibility

Something that I’d never realised before researching the answer to this question is the fact that blue or green scrubs can actually enhance the vision of an operating surgeon.

These colours play an important role in the operating room, particularly when it comes to the surgeon’s ability to see well and focus on the task at hand.

Blue and green actually have a refreshing effect on a doctor’s vision of red things, such as the bloody innards of a patient during surgery.

This is because the brain interprets colours relative to one another, and by looking at blue or green, the doctor’s vision is less likely to become desensitised to the reds and pinks of their working field.

Moreover, since green and blue are the opposite of red on the spectrum of visual light, this further enhances the surgeon’s ability to focus on red colours during an operation.

A colour wheel demonstrating scrub colours

Another factor that contributes to the preference for green or blue scrubs is their ability to counteract the afterimages created by prolonged exposure to red hues, such as blood.

You’ll have experienced an afterimage if you’ve ever looked at a bright light and then seen the faint outline of that light stay in your vision when you look at a blank wall.

Surgeons may experience this same phenomenon if they’re concentrating on the brightly lit blood and tissue in the operating field and then go to look at their colleague’s white scrubs.

4. Uniformity And Professionalism

Doctors predominantly wear blue or green scrubs due to the combination of factors we’ve discussed that enhance their work environment.

However, another crucial aspect is the need for uniformity and professionalism in doctor’s clothing.

By wearing scrubs of a particular colour, doctors create a sense of unity and contribute to a consistent image throughout a hospital or clinic.

Doctors are after all professionals, and nearly every professional dresses in a smart, relatively uniform manner.

While you could argue that standards are changing, with less rigid dress policies and increased acceptance of individuality (exemplified by doctors having tattoos), there is undoubtedly still something to be said for uniformity.

The adoption of these colours also allowed for better distinction of medical personnel in various settings, instilling a sense of trust and comfort among patients.

Some hospitals choose to take things a step further by allocating specific scrub colours to specific professionals- for example, junior doctors in green, consultants in black, nurses in blue etc.

5. Psychological Effects of Colours

I wouldn’t say this last reason is the main driving factor behind doctors wearing blue and green, but it definitely shouldn’t be discounted.

Colours have a significant impact on our emotions and behaviours.

In the medical field, the choice of colours, particularly for scrubs, plays a crucial role in creating a suitable environment for both healthcare professionals and patients.

Green and blue are cool colours that are known to have calming and soothing effects on the mind. These colours help in reducing stress and anxiety levels for both doctors and patients.

It’s well known that patients who are less stressed and anxious will experience less pain- and so have a much better experience of their time in hospital.

I definitely picture a room full of people in bright red outfits, traditionally the colour of danger, would be a far less calming environment to be in as a patient!

Alternatives And Personal Preferences

Doctors usually wear blue or green scrubs primarily due to the benefits they offer in operating rooms, such as the reduction in eye strain and improved contrast against bodily fluids that we’ve discussed.

However, personal preferences and alternative clothing options also play a role in a doctor’s choice of attire.

Many medical professionals appreciate the standardisation of blue and green scrubs, as it helps create a sense of unity and professionalism within the workplace.

While blue or green scrubs are the norm, it’s not uncommon for some doctors to choose scrubs in different colours or patterns, perhaps paired with their crocs.

This allows them to express their individuality while still adhering to the practical benefits of wearing scrubs.

One of my best friends during my foundation programme had a pair of hot pink scrubs that she absolutely loved to wear and stand out with!

Furthermore, certain departments or specialities may have their own colour code for easy identification within a large healthcare facility.

For example, I’ve been to some A&E departments where their scrubs are a different colour from the rest of the hospital.

My personal preference was actually to be in scrubs as much as I could, no matter where I was working or what colour they were.

I’ve always found their lightweight and simple design to be extremely comfortable and having the hospital do my washing for me was always a bonus!

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the choice of blue and green scrubs in the medical setting is not merely a matter of aesthetics or tradition, but rather a well-considered decision that takes into account the psychological effects of colours and the practicalities of maintaining a clean and efficient working environment.

Something that as a doctor, I can’t say I’d ever really put much thought to before.

Ultimately, hospitals and medical facilities aim to provide the best possible environment for doctors and staff to efficiently perform their duties, and wearing blue or green scrubs is one way to achieve that goal.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.