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What Do Medical Students Wear?

In this post, we discuss what the daily dress code of a medical student is and what you should be wearing to clinical placements if you are a medical student yourself.

Quick Answer

When going to lectures in the first couple of years of medical school, medical students tend to wear casual clothes that any ordinary member of the public might wear.

If they need to go into hospital, they wear more formal clothes like a shirt and trousers.

A lady might need to wear a blouse with a knee-length skirt. However, women tend to have more option in what they can wear than men.

What Do Medical Students Wear to Lectures?

Medical students are normal people.

When going to lectures and other non-clinical activities, the guys tend to wear clothes like jeans, t-shirts and trainers, while the girls wear dresses and tops as you would see on the street.

man in green crew neck t-shirt holding silver fork
In a lecture, you can wear casual clothes

Men at Lectures

  • T-shirt
  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • Trainers

Women at Lectures

  • T-shirt
  • Blouse
  • Skirt
  • Trousers
  • Jeans

However, when in the hospital, it is a different story entirely.

What Do Medical Students Wear in Hospital?

There are generally two types of placements that medical students go on: hospital placements or GP (family doctor) placements.

The dress code for both is the same.

It is advised that boys wear a shirt and formal trousers and girls wear skirts at least up to their knees and a blouse that doesn’t show any cleavage.

There is also the rule of “bare below the elbows” which means nothing should be worn below the elbows. That means no watches, long-sleeved shirts or complicated rings.

Interestingly, the only thing you are allowed to wear below the elbows is a plain, circular ring.

A plain circular ring like this is acceptable in hospitals

On the face of it, medical students and doctors cannot be told apart on the ward. They both wear formal clothes without a lab-coat and most of the time wear a stethoscope.

Two doctors on a ward round

Men at Hospital

  • Formal shirt and trousers
  • Black or brown boots
  • Sweater/jumper

Women at Hospital

  • Blouse
  • Knee-length skirt
  • Formal shirt and trousers
  • Sweater/jumper

What should medical students wear?

Why Don’t They Wear Scrubs?

For those that don’t know, scrubs are blue or green clothes that doctors are often depicted wearing (see picture below).

man in black crew neck t-shirt holding black tablet computer
Man in scrubs

Medical students can wear scrubs in certain situations, however, most of the time do not.

Mostly they are worn in surgical departments, however, can technically be worn anywhere in the hospital.

Note that the scrubs depicted above are not the same as surgical gowns. Surgical gowns are special, decontaminated clothes that surgeons wear in surgical theatres.

What About When Going Into Surgical Theatres?

Medical students are not only allowed to go in and observe a surgery, by they can even participate.

However, before they do this, there is a whole procedure that needs to be followed in the form of “scrubbing in”.

Scrubbing in is where you decontaminate your hands and wear clean, aseptic surgical gowns which prevent the patients from getting an infection while in surgery.

This is what to do if you are a medical student and are going for your first ever surgery:

  1. Go into the surgical changing room and change into normal scrubs and rubber slippers.
  2. After entering the surgical theatre room, ask the consultant if you can participate and should wear the surgical gown.
  3. Get the help of a nurse and put on the scrubs without touching anything.
  4. You should start by putting on your mask, then wash your hands, then put on gloves.
  5. After this, you can put on our apron.
  6. Now you are all scrubbed up!

doctor wearing Green Bay Packers hat
A surgeon wearing a surgical gown, a face mask and a head covering.

What to Buy If You Are a First-Year Medical Student

As a first-year medical student, you shouldn’t be buying much.

At most, you should invest in some formal clothes if you don’t have any as they give a good impression to those around you.

However, other than any compulsory equipment that your university may ask you to buy (my university made us wear lab coats to our anatomy and pathology labs), you shouldn’t be spending a lot.

woman inside laboratory
You might be expected to buy a lab coat

But What About a Stethoscope?

Ah yes, the first thing that all medical students want to buy.

If you do want one, there is no harm in buying one.

However, in most cases, it is not necessary, especially in the first couple of years.

Once you get into clinical placement years, it may be useful to get one as consultants and doctors often don’t like sharing their stethoscopes. However, if you can’t afford one (as they can be as expensive as £150!) you shouldn’t get one.

The only time where you will have to buy one is after you graduate. Before this, the university will be required to give you a stethoscope if needed for any exams (unless stated otherwise by your university).

Littman is the standard company that everyone uses. I have a Littman stethoscope myself and it is fantastic.

This stethoscope is the one I have and is the only one you need. No need to go for any £200 ones even if you have the cash to burn.

What Do Surgeons and Doctors Wear?

Surgeons and doctors don’t wear anything different to medical students around the hospital.

However, medical students do spend a lot of their time in casual clothes, while doctors tend to mostly wear formal clothes.

Other Nuances

Most people won’t have to think about the things I mention below, however, it is still good to be aware of them for the future.

Can Medical Students Have Tattoos?

Although tattoos are technically allowed, it is definitely taboo to have large tattoos, especially on the head.

Although tattoos have become more accepted over the decades, there is still a lot of controversies that surround doctors having tattoos.

If the tattoo is of certain depictions that could offend people, it should definitely be avoided.

For more information on this topic, I suggest reading this 2018 article about perceptions of doctors with tattoos.

Face Coverings and Hijabs

In most circumstances, Muslim women who want to wear face coverings or a hijab are allowed to do so as long as it is not harming the patient.

However, it is a controversial issue and some people argue the head coverings can increase the risk of transmission.

In times where a global pandemic is killing hundreds of thousands of people, it is a topic that is picking up significant media attention.

woman in black hijab standing
Face coverings can still be worn under most circumstances

If you want to learn more about medical students and doctors wearing religious items and clothing, this NHS article is a great read.


Medical students have a lot of freedom when it comes to what they can wear.

However, there are still certain things that cannot and should not be worn, especially if in hospitals and sensitive clinical consultations.

If in doubt about what to wear at your university or medical school, look on their official website or contact them via email.

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