Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Doctor" Scrubs

Scrubs. They seem like the perfect project for the home sewer. There are tons of patterns out there. The material is inexpensive. The patterns are simple. But, if you have ever tried to make scrubs for the doctor or medical student in your life, you've probably realized that there is a lot more to it then that. Did you get that funny look, with the half-hearted thank you, then the scrubs went to the bottom of the dresser, never to be seen again? Or did your loved one say, "Hmm, that's not quite what I was looking for." but couldn't explain why? Well then, you are in the right place. After 4 years of medical school and 3 years of residency, I've worn a LOT of scrubs, so here is how to make some scrubs that your medical professional will love.

The scrubs that are traditionally worn by physicians are very different then those worn by the nursing and ancillary staff. Your doctor, or doctor-in-training, realizes this, and doesn't want to look like a nurse (or the cleaning lady). I actually think that nursing scrubs are a lot nicer than doctor scrubs in many ways, but they're not what you want for this. Commercial pattern companies don't seem to realize this, and the pattern that are available all cater to the nursing staff. However, they can be easily modified. Here's how.

First of all, let's talk fabric. You are looking for a poly/cotton broadcloth. Thin - like a shirting weight, and fully saturated with color (ie, you can't tell the difference from the wrong and right sides of the fabric). They are made of this for a couple of reasons. Doctors tend to wear a lot of layers (scrubs, white coat, surgical gowns, etc), so it gets hot. Thin fabric isn't. Also, on the off chance that your doctor gets a chance to sleep on call, they need to double as PJs, and be fairly wrinkle resistant. And, they're reversible. More on that in a moment.

What color? There are lots of options out there for broadcloth, but for doctors, you really only have two. Blue, which is traditionally worn by the Medical subspecialties (Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Family Medicine), and green, which is typically worn by the Surgical subspecialites (Surgery and all the specialties thereof, and OB/Gyn).

You might be tempted to get creative with the colors, but if you haven't talked about it with the person who will be wearing them, don't. I always wanted to wear pink scrubs, but as a young woman, it was hard enough to get taken seriously in boring medical blue scrubs.

Now, Reversiblity. Doctor scrubs are fully reversible, but not lined. I'm not sure why this is, but it is really convenient, and it is the way they are, so here we go. They are made reversible by using flat-felled seams, and by hemming and stitching the casing as close to the edge of the fabric as possible, with the raw edge turned under. Of course, you can tell which side is which up close, but not so much from normal conversational distances.They also have "reversible" pockets. Pockets are another important thing to discuss. There must be pockets, as every doctor will tell you. But don't get all crazy, remember - reversible. There should be two pockets on the rear right side of the buttock. So, you put one on the "right" side of the fabric and one on the "wrong" side. Looks like this -
As you can see, the pocket is on the right rear, and there is a visible stitching line from the other pocket that is on the inside. When the scrubs are reversed, it looks exactly the same - pocket on the right, stitching on the left. These are typically the only pockets on the pant, although I understand that cargo style pockets are becoming popular with some physicians. Be sure to ask if you aren't sure. The pockets should have squared off corners, and should be large enough to hold an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper folded widthwise (so, 6 x 6 or so).

The waist should be a cased drawstring. The idea material for the drawstring is cotton strapping. It hold a knot much better than polyester (which is slick) and MUCH better than a self-fabric tie. Trust me on this, when you have 6 pagers and phones on your waist and 14 pieces of paper and your PDA in your pocket, you need a drawstring that HOLDS.It also should crossover itself within the casing. So, when you are putting it in, start with the far buttonhole, case all the way around across the buttonhole where you started and out the near side so that the strapping is crossed. This makes it easier to tie, and also helps hold up all those pagers.

So, what pattern do you use? You can, of course, use a tradiational scrub pattern, just be sure to make the changes above. I use Butterick 6837. Yep, it is a pajama pattern, but the pants are PERFECT. There are no side seams, and only one pattern piece. You do have to add a few inches to the top for a casing, as this pattern calls for a separate waistband. I love it, and the scrub pants I made yesterday for Mitch are a big hit.

Finally! I made something that Mitch actually likes!!


  1. "But, if you have ever tried to make scrubs for the doctor or medical student in your life"

    Excuse much----- why wouldn't you assume that the 'doctor or medical student' (of either gender) IS the one who sews????? Such as, oh: YOU!

    This attitude is the very reason the Feminists of my generation worked so hard to bust stereotypes (to say nothing of laws, regulations and quotas) that allowed YOU to apply for and attend Medical School with relative alacrity. Something that the women of my generation achieved only after much difficulty, and women of your grandmothers' generation achieved extremely rarely.

    Women can be Doctors. Men can sew. Women and/or men can be doctors that sew.


  2. This could include oneself as the "doctor or med student in your life". I just didn't want to be specific. 'Sides, when I WAS the doctor and medical student, I was too busy to sew.

  3. That said: I do think you did a great job on the scrubs -- they fit Mitch nicely, and probably show off his cute butt.

  4. What if you did this for an enrichment activity? I think it would go over well in our ward.