Medical Student Attire (The Ultimate Guide On What To Wear In Med School) [2021]

You want to be a doctor but you still want to dress to impress right? Knowing where to get started with medical student attire will definitely help you with that.

As a 4th year med student myself, I know how important it is to get your fashion choices right. Hanging out in the clinic all day with a tight-fitting pair of scrubs? Not the most comfortable of experiences…

So that’s where this guide comes in, we’ll cover:

  • Common questions prospective med students ask about clothes, fashion and everything else
  • Tips on what clothes and accessories are best to go for
  • What your patients and med school expect from you in terms of attire

You don’t have to look shabby with your nose in your books! There’s plenty of space for style in med school (if you let it).

Let’s get started.

Medical Student Attire: What do med students wear?

A med students day-to-day clothing depends on two factors: year of study and location. Pre-clinical students (those in the early years of study) can usually dress as casual as they like. While those on clinical rotations will either need scrubs or smart business casual attire.

Students whose pre-clinical classes aren’t mandatory, and who do all their studying at home, have even more freedom.

As they won’t be interacting with anyone in person, pyjamas could even work. But it’s probably not a good idea to get too liberal!

Personally speaking, I’m jeans and T-shirt type of guy. But I don’t mind the odd smart casual long-sleeve shirt.

What do medical students wear to class?

What you wear to class depends on where it’s based. If it’s in something like a cadaver lab, you’ll obviously need a coat or scrubs – and some older (worn so you don’t mind them getting ruined) clothes underneath. While casual wear is fine for lectures and seminars.

As a good first rule of thumb, I’d advise going smart casual to your first classroom engagements in med school. That way you can get a better sense of the vibe and the do’s and don’ts in terms of fashion. Especially without the embarassment of over (or under) dressing!

The following things are usually fine:

  • Jeans/slacks (I’d avoid the ripped or distressed look – that trend is wayyyy too unpredictable)
  • T-shirts (No dumb slogans/images – you don’t want to be “that” med student)
  • Long-sleeve shirts/blouse
  • Sweaters/jerseys
  • Sneakers

Personally (I’m sure most of my fellow female colleagues will agree), I feel dresses (or suits) are overkill.

It’s usually a pharmacology lecture. Not a Gatsby-esque cocktail party!

What do medical students wear in hospital?

Most med students will wear scrubs or a white coat in hospital for hygiene purposes. Depending on their rotation (what area of med they’re getting education in), this could be different however. Business casual is the general rule – jeans and T-shirt is way too formal!

Oftentimes the teaching hospital will determine what med students wear based on tradition and policy. Patients and teaching staff have expectations too. How else are they meant to differentiate you from anyone else who’s walked in off the street?

For the types of clothes you’ll need for hospital-based study, I go into all that in this article here…

What To Wear During Clinical Rotations (How To Become A More Majestic Med Student)

Is there a dress code for medical school?

Most med schools have some type of dress code for clinical-based study (again, not the early years).

You’ll usually find this in your school literature/orientation guide before starting. Failing that, it’s generally published online somewhere on the website of your institution.

Sometimes it’s not always that formal but more an unwritten rule enforced by professors/teachers/staff.

Cadaver labs, for instance, might ask you to wear specific shoes (not open-toed) while forbidding shorts (but why would you want to?).

But if you do want an example of what a typical med school dress code looks like, here’s what Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine says…

Appropriate deportment and dress are expected of students as they engage with patients and clinical colleagues.

Dress in routine morning lecture or in small group activity with no patient or standardized patient interaction in the first two years is informal.

In any environment where patients are present, students are required to wear a clean, short white coat with an ID badge identifying themselves as medical students. Clinical Attire Guidelines should also be followed…

https://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/md-education/current-students/policies-services/policies/dress-code-scrub-suit-policy.html

Do medical students need scrubs?

100% yes. Even if your teaching hospital supplies them, I’d recommend getting a couple of your own pairs.

The benefits are several:

  • You’ll have a pair that actually fit and look good
  • They’re comfortable (and more breathable) than the white coat over formal clothes look
  • You can choose your own colors (if your med school allows)
  • You can practice messy stuff (suturing for example) at home in them without ruining other clothes

It’s important that you wash them thoroughly if you ever intend on wearing them in clinic though. The whole point of scrubs is that they’re sanitized!

What color scrubs do medical students wear?

This is entirely dependent on your teaching hospital. Some have strict policies on color, others don’t.

I cover this more in-depth here…

What Color Scrubs Do Medical Students Wear?

Why do med students wear Patagonia?

Patagonia is super popular among med students as they specialize in ‘responsibly made’ clothing and gear that some med students say, “shows killer signs of prestige”.

Here’s one particular amusing comment on the subject from a Reddit user hanging out in r/premed…

It’s a mating symbol. When you wear one as a med student you release crazy pheromones that get girls wild.

Some more practical reasons include:

  • Warmth and comfort
  • They’re on discount due to departmental group purchases (another reason to have your med school’s name embroidered on the back)
  • They look great

Most popular are Patagonia’s jackets and fleeces. They go great over your hospital threads.

Do medical students wear white coats?

In the U.S. medical students are worn from day one of med school, following a ceremony held at the beginning of the first semester. Practically however, they’re only ever worn in hospital when dealing with patients or lab-based class (when you don’t want to wear scrubs).

A student showing up in a white coat for first or second year classes will likely be ridiculed.

Hey, not my rule…

Does the length of a doctor’s coat mean anything?

Back in the day a shorter coat meant you were lower on the medical training totem pole. Nowadays, it’s something of a preference – some doctors just prefer the look and feel!

Of course you might read otherwise, that the length of coats still mean something, but my experiences in medicine don’t suggest as much. Standard business attire in hospitals has kind of made it a moot point.

Although it might still hold true in some hospital or med school dress codes.

Is white coat ceremony a big deal?

The white coat ceremony is a big deal for most med students. It signifies their success applying and getting into med (something that’s certainly not easy), and the start of the long journey towards becoming a doctor.

It generally happens in the opening days of med school…

Image result for med school fashion meme

What to wear when shadowing a doctor

The same basic rules apply when shadowing a doctor (whether you’re in med school or not). Business casual is expected, unless the hospital/clinic attached to the doctor has a specific policy otherwise. To be doubly sure, ask the person you plan on shadowing directly about required attire.

Med Student Fashion Abroad

How do med students dress in the UK?

Med student dress is pretty universal across the globe. In the UK (my native country) there are a few interesting rules for hospital or clinical-based placements:

  • Girls are advised to wear skirts up to the knee and blouses not exposing the chest
  • The bare below the elbows rule: forearms should be bare (no accessories or long-sleeve shirts except circular rings)

How do med students dress in Europe?

Going to med school in Europe, here’s how we’re told to dress:

  • Scrubs/white coat in hospital at all times: must change on arrival

At my med school (University of Varna) we’re not issued with our own scrubs. We have to buy (and maintain, wash etc.) our own.

The same goes for personal protective equipment (PPE).

What To Wear In Med School: Related Questions

Here I’ll answer a bunch of other commonly asked questions about what’s good/bad, hot/not in med school…

Are jeans allowed in medical college?

In the pre-clinical years jeans are fine. You won’t be dealing with any patients so it’s OK to wear clothes that might otherwise be thought of as “overly casual”.

Jeans are cheap and comfortable. Two things that will strongly appeal to you in the beginning years of med.

Is hair color allowed?

A little hair color is generally fine. As long as you don’t go overboard, I’m thinking Dennis Rodman multicolor-patches, it won’t look out of place.

Obviously you’ll want to think twice about any extreme coloration. Patients or teaching doctors probably won’t be too keen on that. Especially if it’s firmly in “unprofessional-looking” territory.

Use common sense.

Are hijabs allowed?

Yes, you are allowed to express your religion in med school and wear a hijab.

Religious items have been recent a cause of contoversy in debate over infectious transmission however. The British Islamic Medical Association has a good guide on Safe Wearing of Head coverings/Hijab during COVID-19 here.

That gives further clarification on best practices.

What about piercings and tattoos?

Yes but with caveats. Both should be discrete if possible. Obvious ones should be covered.

I go into all this in much more detail in these two articles:

What clothes/gear should a med student buy?

The best things to buy for med school include:

  • A good pair of scrubs and a white lab coat (I recommend at least one of each)
  • Comfortable pair of shoes (formal for clinical-based study and informal for everyday use)
  • A robust backpack with plenty of capacity and security
  • A stethoscope (but only as/when it’s necessary)

Anything else you might want in terms of fashion, it entirely up to you. Stick to plain things that work in both formal and informal environments though to make the most use of your money.

Smart watches/rings, fitbits etc. aren’t necessary. They’ll only cripple your budget and won’t impact your lifestyle or studies enough to justify the purchase.

Who are some good med students to follow in terms of fashion/style?

  • Faye Bate: Faye is a UK-based med student who dedicates a lot of her YouTube channel to med school style. Her video; “What I wear as a med student on placement” has a lot of cool tips for aspiring female docs.
  • Ahmad Shahin: Arizona-based medic Ahmad always looks pretty sharp in his videos showing what the day-to-day is like for an American student during the preclinical years.
  • TheStriveToFit: Popular med school YouTuber Jamie has a lot of useful med school style tips, check out her “Business casual looks on a budget: Whitecoat Outfits” for a good intro.
  • Sarah Nicholls: And for those of you interested in the style of fully-fledged doctors, Sarah Nicholls YouTube channel has you covered. Her video, “5 workwear outfits, what I wear to work as a doctor” is a solid starting point.
  • Rola Rabah: Another doctor worth following who’s got great style is American surgeon Dr Rola Rabah.

Final Thoughts: Medical Student Attire

Figuring out to what to wear in med school doesn’t need to be complicated. Hopefully the guide above has helped clear up all your pressing questions!


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Image Credit: @Usman Yousaf at Unsplash