Editor's corner: The politics of hospital dress codes


Stories about dress codes sure get people hot under the collar. 

Few stories are more popular than the articles FierceHealthcare writes about what type of clothing healthcare workers should wear to work.

Perhaps people are passionate about clothing because it is so personal--our clothing reflects who we are and how we want people to perceive us. And since so many people look up to physicians, perhaps those who choose to wear a white lab coat or surgical scrubs outside the hospital walls want the world to know they are doctors.

There is also the argument about freedom of expression and wearing whatever we damn well please.

Or maybe it's just casual Friday and the scrubs are comfortable.

But we may have become a bit too casual. Last month FierceHealthcare ran a story on Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania decision to ban nurses from wearing leggings and t-shirts to work. Instead they must now wear pewter gray and white scrubs embroidered with “Registered Nurse” and the system logo. The story continues to generate interest. The strict new dress code is the result of a survey in which patients said they couldn't distinguish healthcare workers from one another. The story remains at the top of our list of most-read articles.

I suspected that yesterday's article on the American College of Surgeons’ new wardrobe guidelines for surgeons would probably generate similar interest in the topic.

The article looked at the new guidelines and also included the opinion of Skeptical Scapel, who wrote about the issue in the Medscape KevinM.D. column. He said scrubs worn outside the hospital are unprofessional. And many people weighed in on his piece. One said “people wear scrubs outside the hospital to be noticed and achieve higher status in society. Strutting your feathers like a proud peacock!” Another noted “it is part of the too-casual culture we are faced with today.”

Others noted the dangers of wearing scrubs in public as they can harbor bacteria.

So I figured we’d receive similar comments when we posted the article on our Facebook page asking our followers whether their surgeons wear surgical scrubs outside the hospital.

Who knew, though, that the conversation would get political?

“With all the pressing issues facing the medical profession ... especially the doctors, are you really asking us what they should wear? You must be a Democrat,” said one passionate reader.

Not sure how a company can be a Democrat or Republican, but there it is. Even a simple non-political question these days draws fire, pitting people who have different political opinions against each other.

I won’t go in to whether I have a preference for a particular political party or candidate but I will weigh in on the controversial surgical scrubs issue: To wear or not wear surgical scrubs outside the hospital?

The ACS guidelines are common sense. They recommend surgeons change out of scrubs as soon as possible after a procedure and prior to meeting with the patient’s family or when they meet with patients outside the operating room.

The ASC promotes the new dress guidelines to ensure surgical patient safety. “It’s important to provide an optimal surgical care environment for our patients. These recommendations for a comprehensive dress policy for surgeons will help us to achieve that goal,” said ACS Executive Director David B. Hoyt, M.D., in a statement announcing the new guidelines.

I agree with the guidelines--because patient safety isn’t political. It’s the right thing to do.-- Ilene (@FierceHealth