In films and on TV you will see doctors wearing all sorts of clothing: scrubs, white coats, suits, shirts, blouses, dresses, jeans and more. So what exactly do doctors wear to work in real life in the UK? This is what we cover in this article. We answer questions such as why don’t doctors wear white coats, ties or wrist watches anymore and why do doctors roll up their sleeves? We also discuss what medical students are expected to wear and if medical schools have a dress code.

What do doctors wear to work?

In a few specialities such as surgery or Emergency Medicine (A&E), the doctors come into work wearing whatever they like and then use changing rooms to change into scrubs for work. They wear trainers/sports shoes for comfort or quite often (especially in surgical theatres) they wear clogs. The more expensive clogs are incredibly comfortable! When surgeons are not working in surgical theatres (which is a lot; surgeons don’t just operate; they do ward rounds, outpatient clinics, multidisciplinary meetings, managerial and educational duties and much more), they will dress as we describe in the next paragraph. Sometimes doctors who are not in these specialities but are doing an “on call,” i.e. covering multiple wards or on night shifts will also wear scrubs as they are very comfortable and easy to wear when you are moving around between wards or perhaps there is a rare heatwave in the UK.

Outside of the above specialities, most doctors in the UK dress similarly to office workers. They wear a shirt or smart top such as a jumper, cardigan or blouse. Men wear trousers and females were either trousers, a skirt, or a smart dress. Increasingly, doctors are dressing less formally. You will now see some doctors in smart but colourful chinos and shoes which are smart but not formal. Consultants and GP’s quite often wear suits to work, but most other doctors do not. Doctors in specialities such as paediatrics and psychiatry have tended to be less formal in how they dress but not always so.

Why don’t doctors wear white coats anymore?

You have probably seen famous doctors in TV shows like Scrubs, House MD or ER, walk around in white coats. Many doctors do so in North America and other countries, but in the UK, lab coats have fallen out of fashion and doctors very rarely walk around in white coats (unless they are working in a lab).

Why do doctors have their sleeves rolled up and don’t wear wrist watches?

In NHS hospital wards, all clinical staff (doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants etc.) roll up their sleeves or wear short sleeves and do not wear wrist watches. They also do not wear ties or tuck them inside their shirt. These measures are to prevent the spread of infection. The actual evidence for this is not robust. Nevertheless, it is a policy in hospitals around the country.

What do medical students wear? Is there a dress code at medical school?

Most days in medical school when students are not in clinical areas, they will typically dress like regular university students. If students have a lab session, then they will likely be required to put a lab coat on over their clothes and wear closed shoes instead of sandals etc.

When in clinical environments or doing examinations medical students will dress smartly like doctors. Individual medical schools and hospitals will have their own policies but generally, piercings should be minimal and tattoos covered. Some students and others view these attitudes to piercings and tattoos as outdated or unclear and inconsistent. Hijabs and skull caps are fine, but a persons face must be exposed.

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