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How clean is your uniform?


Creatas | Jupiterimages

Creatas | Jupiterimages

Isn’t it amazing how our uniform defines our profession? You could say that about all of healthcare, to some degree. We as nurses love to wear our scrubs. We love to be able to say we wear our “pajamas” to work every day (okay, maybe I’m the only one who says that). But what if the uniform we’re wearing is causing harm, or could potentially cause harm, in the form of infection?

It’s not a new concept, but I recently read an article (“Dangerous Bacteria Hide Out in Nurses’, Doctors’ Uniforms”) on how our scrubs and our lab coats (all types of care providers) can and do harbor harmful bacteria – though there is some debate on whether long sleeves harbor more bacteria. When I saw the title of this article, it immediately brought back memories of the cleanliness of physicians’ ties (“How Clean Is Your Doctor’s Tie?”).

It’s no secret that we deal with a boatload of serious disease-causing germs on a daily basis while on the job. It doesn’t matter where we work; it’s what I would call “assumed risk” for us. This is healthcare, and we are caring for the unwell.

I guess I’m wondering how often we think about the “sterility” of our uniforms (all of them). I mean, I don’t think I’m alone when I say I wear my scrubs from my home to work, at work and then back home. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve all run errands before and after work while still wearing our scrubs. What does that say about our cleanliness? Or our infection prevention? We ALL know how easy bacterial transmission can be (those darn vectors!).

When I worked in the PACU, we had to wear OR scrubs. We could not wear scrubs from outside the hospital. We had to change into our uniform that was provided for us by the hospital. And then at the end of the day, we changed and tossed the dirty uniform in the dirty linens to be washed by the hospital cleaning service.

I used to think that was such a pain.

Then I remembered my pediatric rotation in nursing school. All the germs we encountered there. I specifically remember MANY of my classmates getting the sniffles, head colds and full-blown flu during that time frame. We were told to rigorously clean our equipment (pens, markers, clipboards, BP cuffs, stethoscopes, etc.) to make sure we didn’t transport any of the “germs” home. RSV was not our friend. I remember wiping down my shoes with Clorox wipes after each clinical day!!!

I’m still pretty “type A” about most of the aforementioned, but somehow I’ve gotten away from including my uniform.

Maybe I’m being too type A, but I wonder how many times we nurses have gotten sick, or we have passed on the “germs” to someone else who eventually became sick, simply by the uniform we were wearing. (See this article about germs on your scrubs as well.)

Things that make you go hmm….

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