The Hidden Price of Nursing: The Real Cost of Scrubs

In the demanding world of healthcare, nurses are integral. They are the pillars of patient care, often dressed in their characteristic scrubs, which serve as both a practical uniform and a symbol of their dedication to service and healing. 

However, the cost of these scrubs, a seemingly minor detail, is an overlooked aspect that substantially impacts a nurse’s professional expenses. 

This article seeks to uncover the hidden cost of scrubs and the financial burden buying scrubs puts on frontline health workers.

A Brief History of Scrubs

Scrubs have historically offered nurses protection, efficiency, comfort, functionality, easy identification, and a safeguard against cross-contamination while they are at work. 

According to the American College of Surgeons, the term “scrub” originates from their association with “scrubbed” environments, such as hospitals, operating rooms, and doctor’s offices. Our understanding of the evolution of surgical attire largely stems from illustrations, depictions in artwork, and various recorded accounts. 

The now ubiquitous “scrubs” didn’t become standard attire until the middle of the 20th century. Looking back to the 19th century, a typical scene would involve a surgeon simply removing his suit jacket, rolling up his sleeves, donning a frock or apron, and proceeding with the operation. With time, the apparel worn during surgeries has significantly changed, enhancing safety measures for the surgeon and the patient.

Understanding the High Cost of Scrubs

The cost of scrub tops and bottoms can mount quickly, as they are often sold separately, with some individual pieces exceeding a hefty price tag of $60. Nurses may be inclined to steer clear from popular, yet expensive, brands like Figs, which was pitched as the “Lululemon of medical clothing” when it launched in 2013. The rising costs may be due partly to companies’ attempts to keep up with fashion trends, creating scrubs with a slim fit and trendy designs. 

This desire for an especially protective design was another unforeseen consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a shift in our relationships with personal protective equipment (PPE) and designers being inspired to make it more fashionable, including medical garments such as scrubs. While these stylish renditions serve as a form of expression and morale booster in challenging times, they also have inadvertently helped lead to a further increase in prices.

Why Are Scrubs So Expensive?

Diving deeper into the world of scrubs, one might wonder, Why are these seemingly simple garments so costly? As noted above, the more fashionable options incur a higher price tag. More specific factors contributing to the cost of scrubs include color, material, durability, pockets, and whether the material is fitted. These aspects not only affect production costs but also add value in the eyes of the consumer, ultimately driving up the price. 

In addition, high-quality scrubs, particularly those manufactured in specialized facilities, offer superior protection for nurses against various hazards in their work environment.

Are There Cheaper Options for Purchasing Scrubs?

More cost-effective scrubs are readily available online or at large retail chains, with prices as low as $8 per scrub top. However, the durability of these cheaper options tends to be inferior compared to their pricier counterparts, so that should be considered when purchasing scrubs. 

While cheaper scrubs may initially seem like an economical choice, their lack of durability often leads to a shorter lifespan and they need to be replaced more often. Constructed from lesser-quality materials, these scrubs are prone to wear and tear. Also, the lower-quality fabric used may offer a different level of protection. In an environment where exposure to bodily fluids is commonplace, this diminished barrier could put nurses at an increased risk. 

A few affordable, quality scrubs to consider include:

Who is Responsible for Purchasing Scrubs?

The New York Times reported that the cost of scrubs used to be covered by hospitals and medical programs, but that has changed. While it is true that certain hospitals and medical institutions cover the cost of scrubs for their employees—specifically for operating room nurses—more often than not, the responsibility of these expenses rests on the shoulders of the nurses themselves.

A candid conversation with a few additional registered nurses revealed that if the onus of replacing the scrubs lies on them, they tend to postpone purchasing new ones. Unfortunately, those who buy their own scrubs seldom receive reimbursements, but it is common practice to claim these expenses as deductions on their taxes.

What About in Other Countries?

Just a few years ago, a video of Ahus Hospital in Norway was shared by a 22-year-old nurse who worked there. The video astounded millions of viewers worldwide, shining a positive light on the efficiency of Norway’s healthcare system in contrast to that of other advanced nations. 

In this Norwegian hospital, nurses don’t show up in the commonplace blue scrubs we’re so accustomed to here in the United States. Instead, they scan their staff passes at a ‘vending machine,’ which allows them to select the uniform items they require for their shift from a screen, which are then conveniently dispensed on a rail.

The hospital also has adopted an efficient method to take care of the scrubs after use, sparing the staff the burden of laundering at home. At the end of their shifts, the nurses simply drop their scrubs into a designated laundry chute. They repeat the same process the next day, selecting fresh scrubs from the vending machine.

This Norwegian hospital’s impressive, futuristic approach offers a glimpse into what the future might hold for scrub management in healthcare settings.

Reflecting on the Impact of Scrub Prices

The cost of scrubs can vary widely, with premium brands commanding higher prices for fashion-forward designs and quality materials. Yet, it’s important to remember that more affordable options are available, even if they may not offer the same longevity. 

Moreover, these costs are not simply monetary but interwoven with the larger fabric of the nursing profession. Nurses are the comforting presence, the hands that heal, and the hearts that empathize in a challenging healthcare environment. The scrubs they wear are not just a uniform but a representation of their commitment to care for those in need. As such, the pricing of scrubs takes on a more significant meaning. 

Recognizing the vital role of nurses in our healthcare system, it becomes ever more imperative to reassess the cost burden of scrubs and work toward more affordable, quality solutions.

Jennifer Latchford

Jennifer Latchford

Guest Contributor

Jennifer Latchford is a publicist with experience spanning multiple industries including health, real estate, technology, and entertainment. When not at work, she can be found writing, reading, or spending time outside. Jennifer is based in the New York metro area.