Medical protective clothing is essential equipment not only to protect medical professionals from pathogens, but also to protect patients from possible contamination by non-sterile garments.
Types of Medical Protective Clothing
There are different types of protective attire to cover every part of the body. Different medical professionals choose which type of clothing they wear based on the requirements of their job, the hazardous or delicate situations they may encounter and to some degree, personal style preferences. Basic types of protective garb include:
- Safety glasses or face shields: These plastic goggles protect against sudden splashes of fluids such as blood, vomit or excrement. They should completely cover the eyes and may wrap around to the temples for extra protection on the sides.
- Masks: These are generally worn over the nose and mouth either to prevent exhaling microorganisms in a sterile environment or to protect them from particulate matter or contagious diseases in the surrounding air. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) masks are generally preferred, and they may use ties or elastic bands to fit snuggly.
- Gloves: Gloves are necessary when working with body fluids or sterile equipment, and latex gloves are thin and flexible enough not to impair the wearer's dexterity. Individuals with latex allergies may opt for other materials with similar performance properties. Gloves are inexpensive and discarded after use to keep from spreading contagions.
- Lab coats: These garments are generally more formal than other protective clothing and are not necessarily suitable for a sterile environment. At the same time, they usually come equipped with convenient pockets and can still provide a minimal level of protection in case of emergency use.
- Scrubs: These are some of the most familiar medical garments and are widely available in different solid colors, prints and matching sets. Scrubs may be worn over other clothing and are easy to change and replace if soiled or contaminated.
- Shoe and boot covers: These thin, elastic booties cover footwear completely and are available in a range of sizes to accommodate different shoe sizes and styles.
- Scrub and surgical caps: This headgear covers the hair and scalp not only to keep microorganisms contained but also to keep control of the wearer's hair, similar to a hairnet in a restaurant. Scrub caps are generally looser while surgical caps are tighter and more restrictive for the more sterile environment.
- Coveralls or jumpsuits: These one-piece garments cover an individual from head-to-toe and include attached booties. They generally fasten in the front and may include a hood or attached mask.
- Surgical gowns: These rear-closure gowns are used by surgeons and are generally discarded after use to prevent any contagion. They may include long sleeves with elastic cuffs, and the gown lengths vary but generally reach at least as low as the calves.
- Sleeves: Independent sleeves have elastic at both the top and the bottom for a secure fit and are worn when gloves do not provide enough coverage but when a full gown is not required.
Common Protective Features
Different companies use different materials to manufacture their medical protective clothing. Each brand, however, has common features that help the different articles of clothing perform their functions easily and comfortably, including:
- Adjustable closures, either with elastic bands or cloth ties
- Lightweight materials for comfort
- Anti-static compositions or coatings to prevent bunching that could compromise protection
- Different weave permeability based on intended use
- No-lint grades of cloth to prevent shedding
- Anti-skid treads on footwear for safety
- Fluid absorption coatings on the inside paired with fluid repellant coatings on the outside
Who Wears Protective Attire?
Doctors and nurses are not the only individuals who wear protective clothing. Anyone who can potentially come in contact with contaminated body fluids or biologically hazardous materials may wear protective attire at some time, including lab technicians, medical interns, EMTs, police and safety officers, janitors and dental hygienists. Even guests to different medical wards - particularly intensive care, maternity and children's units - may be required to wear protective clothing for the safety of the patients. Gloves are the most common type of protective clothing worn and are usually included in first aid kits for any situation where injuries may occur.
Finding Protective Clothing
There are many manufacturers of protective attire available, but before purchasing any particular brand, it is wise to check with the hospital, clinic or other facility to see if one supplier is preferred or required, or if the facility itself will order expected garments. Disposable items such as gloves, caps and booties can be purchase in bulk from many medical supply stores, which should also be able to offer a range of protective clothing for individuals to purchase.
Medical protective clothing not only protects the wearer, but also the individuals they come into contact with, whether those individuals are ill, injured or just in need of medical care. By wearing the proper type of clothing, contamination and contagion can be kept to a minimum and everyone can be just a bit healthier.