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Rage Against the Machine

Ben_3Ben Bryner -- At my university's hospital, everyone who wants to enter the operating room area must wear the hospital’s scrubs. The main rationale for scrubs is to reduce infection rates. (Also, they provide the backdrop for the comic highlight of Wes Anderson's films.) So, like everyone else in the hospital, when students rotate on surgery we get our scrubs from large metal dispensers, shown here.

The odd aspect of the scrub machine is that all the instructions on it are written in the first person. Instead of saying "Swipe card and press button to obtain scrubs" like a normal set of instructions, it reads "Swipe your card through my reader and press a button on my keypad, then open my door to get your scrubs" or something like that. Just trying to make the machine friendlier, I guess. It's only weird because the scrub machine is right there when I change clothes. If a machine is going to be watching me undress, I think I'd rather not have it talk to me in the first person. Frankly, I'd prefer to keep things professional.

The machine is there to cut back on scrub theft, which is up because of the deplorable trend toward making scrubs acceptable wear outside the hospital. In principle, I'm all for anything that combats this. And the machine is convenient, easy to use, fairly quick, and it doesn't run out of scrubs that often. But after I was looking for a picture of the machine, I came across the company's sales pitch. Their website blames most problems with scrubs on the "Vicious Circle," which consists of six different groups of scrub-wasters. The "vicious circle" is helpfully illustrated with a drawing: included in this rogues gallery are "The Hoarder," "The Yanker" and "Messy Marvin," as well as that most awful of creatures, "The Student." (Look at him, carelessly wearing a backpack and drinking some kind of beverage through a straw!) I don't enjoy being lumped in with "Messy Marvin," but what's worse is that the company's website describes these six people as a "vicious circle" just because they've arranged the six pictures in a circle, not because the process represents an actual vicious circle (a self-reinforcing feedback loop with increasingly negative consequences). You can insult me all you want, but have the decency to use economic terms correctly.

Compounding students' problems is the fact that we are sometimes only granted access to one pair of scrubs; we have to turn in one pair to get a credit back on our account, wait for it to process, then pick up another one. That process takes time, meaning more time for the scrub machine to ominously watch us. Don't get me wrong, I'm sympathetic to the principle of wanting to hold onto hospital property. And the manufacturer claims that the machine saves the average hospital $70k per year. Although that sounds like a lot of money for a mom n' pop hospital (if those existed), $70k isn't that much out of the yearly operating margin for a larger hospital. My feeling is that you should make it as easy for people to change scrubs as possible to avoid infection (which is very expensive to treat). Also it should be easy to change scrubs before going out to talk to a patient's family, since even if you've avoided getting blood on your scrubs, plenty of other chemicals commonly found in the OR (betadine, chlorhexidine, Piña Colada Slurpees) look like blood when they end up on scrubs.

I'd like to protest, but how do you picket the scrub machine? There isn't enough room to march around in the locker room. And what good would it do? The scrub machine watches people change clothes all day without averting its LCD screen -- it truly has no shame.

May 27, 2008 in Ben Bryner | Permalink


Wow--I've never even seen a scrub dispenser! At my large US hospital, students are reduced to covertly entering the nurses' locker rooms in hopes of finding a set of scrubs that might fit. As a general rule, there is an unlimited supply of 2XL pants and small tops--and nothing in between. Thus, we all dread the moment when the attending tells us to change into scrubs. We know we will either look like a 5 yr old playing dress up in baggy pants or a stripper in a top 5 sizes too small (depending on our size and gender). As a result, students DO hoard 1-3 sets of scrubs each. At the end of the 4th year, the school holds a scrubs amnesty day and all scrubs are either returned or given to a 3rd year student. At least havingh a dispenser would guarantee us 1) clean scrubs and 2) the correct size!

Posted by: Lou | May 27, 2008 4:29:34 PM

Wow... I'm from Australia and I've never heard of those kinds of problems with scrubs, or students fighting over them... There are always plenty of scrubs in the change room (usually too big, but still some choice)! And I don't think any doctors or students I know would be seen dead outside the hospital in scrubs! People would stare and think you were crazy.

Posted by: Sally | May 30, 2008 2:29:37 AM

hi, I´m from Mexico, let me tell you ,here that´s not a problem, it might be, because we don´t have a machine like yours, here in the hospital you have to buy your scrub, and wash it, and dry it, and wear it, here there are no machines, i think that would be perfect if we have one.

we don´t even have a locker room.
so, be a positive person, and be happy just becuase you and your friends have a scrub machine.

Posted by: robin | Jun 2, 2008 12:28:44 PM

I'm really sorry to be unsympathetic, but you're very very lucky to be provided with scrubs, let alone being allowed a change of scrubs...
I work in a hospital in Soweto, South Africa. We generally have to wear our own scrubs, unless we're willing to get on our hands and knees and beg the nursing staff to dig out a pair of moth-eaten, holey, un-elasticated scrubs that have probably been in use since before the Anglo-Boer war!!

Posted by: Dionne | Jun 3, 2008 11:21:42 AM

wow. i mean, wow. you have a changing room? we have a room of lockers that used to be a storage room. the managerial staff has pretty much decided they never cleaned it before so why start now? i get to change into my poorly fitting scrubs in there. i'd love a scrub machine in a changing room! our laundry is only open for about 45 minutes a day, usually at the most inconvenient time so we launder our own scrubs. super hygienic, i know.

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