It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century, did surgeons begin wearing sterilized garments when in the operating room.
Initially, surgeons wore their own clothes during surgical procedures and later, doctors donned an apron over their clothing, which became the common procedure for many years.
That all changed in 1918, when millions of people came down with the Spanish Flu, that was apparently brought here by the soldiers who were returning from WWI Europe. This was an epidemic of enormous proportions and resulted in deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the US and Europe.
Subsequently, there was wide paranoia of acquiring this deadly virus and medical professionals were scrambling for ways to prevent the spread of infection when approaching potential flu victims.
In addition to the apron, surgeons began wearing cotton gauze masks when operating on a patient. Although this didn’t help the patient from obtaining the disease, the surgeons felt that they were more protected.
In the 1940s, operating room personnel began using more sterilized techniques, in order to stop infections and pathogens from spreading. They wore white aprons which became the symbol of medical professionals; however, it was later determined that the white apparel, along with the operating room bright lights caused eye fatigue. Not something one would want to happen to a surgeon and his nursing staff when in procedure. As a result, operating room garments were changed to green and this became the standard in the 1970s. Known as scrubs, they are commonly worn by health care staff in today’s hospitals.
But not all scrubs are green. What was becoming apparent was a required differentiation between health care professionals by department; such as nursing, pediatrics and emergency rooms and thus, medical professionals wear different colored scrubs that reflect their profession, such as white for doctors, blue for nurses and green for operating staff.
Surgical scrubs are typically owned or leased by the hospital due to the need to sterilize them properly. These garments are designed in sturdy material, which are made to clean blood and other bodily fluids more efficiently than standard clothing.
Today, just about all health care workers wear scrubs. Doctors still wear their own clothing covered by a white coat, except of course during surgery.