The question of what you can or should wear beneath your scrubs is almost always followed by a complex answer: It depends. There are certain situations where you are not permitted to wear anything underneath your medical scrubs. Other times, it is perfectly acceptable—and even preferable—to wear your own clothes underneath your scrub tops and pants. This post will give you some clear guidelines to follow for both scenarios going forward.
When shouldn’t you wear clothes underneath your scrubs? If your job involves working anywhere near an operating room, you won’t be allowed to wear anything underneath your scrubs. The reasons for this involve basic cleanliness and avoidance of contamination through the spread of pathogens. There is also an added element of professionalism that comes with wearing only your scrubs in a sensitive and sterile environment. So for these reasons, no exposed clothing is allowed. Today, surgery room attire consists almost solely of short-sleeved v-neck scrub tops and drawstring scrub pants, usually made of green cotton or cotton/polyester blend.
In these situations, it is important to have good quality, brand name scrubs that fit. Short-sleeve scrub tops are probably the most important part of this because you can’t have sleeves dangling into fluids or spreading germs in a sterile environment. If your sleeves somehow become dirty or stained, you would need to change clothes, something not easily done in the heat of a medical emergency. Also with short sleeves, hand washing is relatively easy.
However, if your job does permit you to wear clothes under your scrub tops and pants, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The first is that your clothing underneath should always be a reasonably snug fit as loose clothing can get caught on objects around you and look sloppy. This is not the professional image you want to project! You want your clothes to fit under your scrubs much the same way a base layer tee shirt might fit under a button-up shirt or light jacket. It should serve a purpose but not draw attention. Long sleeves may sometimes be acceptable, provided they can be rolled or buttoned-up above the elbow when needed.
Tight—but not too tight—tees or collared shirts under scrub tops are usually more than appropriate. These can serve to either keep you more comfortable or warmer depending on your circumstances. Another great option is three-quarter length sleeves which can provide extra comfort and the ability to still wash your hands without getting in the way. Provided that your employer doesn’t have a problem with it, these are both very reasonable options.
Another small issue worth mentioning is jewelry, especially below the elbow. For sanitary reasons, it’s a good idea to remove jewelry worn on the wrists and hands before work as it may involuntarily assist in the spread of pathogens to unwanted areas.
This post should give you a basic understanding about what should or should not be worn under medical scrub tops and why. The answer always revolves around cleanliness and the spread of pathogens. So when in doubt, go with the choice that keeps cleanliness your top priority.