Skip to Content

What do different color medical scrubs mean?

Medical scrubs come in a variety of colors, and each color signifies something specific about the role or department of the medical professional wearing them. Understanding the meaning behind scrub colors can help patients and hospital visitors identify the roles of medical staff, as well as promote team building and department unity among hospital employees.

The History of Medical Scrubs

Scrubs became popularized in the early 20th century as operating room attire that was easy to clean and helped prevent the spread of germs. The first scrubs were white or gray, but color-coding scrubs by department began in the late 1960s. The popularity of scrubs boomed in the 70s and 80s, and their use spread beyond the OR into other areas of the hospital. Today, scrubs are common across most hospital departments and clinics.

Standard Scrub Color Meanings

While scrub colors can vary by facility, here are some standard color meanings:

Color Department
Royal Blue Surgery
Light Blue Pediatrics, Respiratory Therapy
Green Surgical Staff, Sterile Processing
Navy Blue Nursing
Ceil Blue Anesthesiology, ICU
Pink Obstetrics, Labor & Delivery
Purple Dietary, Administration
Black Radiology, Imaging
Gray Orthopedics, Wound Care
White Pharmacy

Surgery Department Scrubs

The surgery department is one of the most common areas where color-coded scrubs are used. Here are some of the most common scrub colors seen in surgery:

  • Royal Blue – Worn by surgeons, surgical nurses, and surgical techs. This color signifies sterile surgical staff.
  • Green – Worn by personnel who maintain the sterile surgical field, like sterile processing staff.
  • Black – Worn by surgical support staff who are not sterile, like anesthesia providers and radiology techs.
  • Ceiling Blue – Sometimes worn by anesthesiologists and nurses who work in the operating room.

The different shades of blue help signify who is sterile versus non-sterile, while green and black indicate support roles. This allows the surgical team to coordinate care while maintaining sterility.

Nursing Department Scrubs

Nurses make up a large part of the hospital workforce, so several scrub colors are designated for various nursing roles:

  • Navy Blue – The most common scrub color for nurses in patient care units like medsurg, oncology, and ICU.
  • Royal Blue – Used by OR nurses. Distinguished from surgery blue to indicate their nursing role.
  • Green – Sometimes used by LPNs and CNAs to distinguish them from RNs.
  • White – Used by nurse managers and supervisors.
  • Light Blue – Used by labor and delivery nurses.
  • Purple – Used by triage and ER intake nurses.

These colors help patients identify nurses and allow nurses to display solidarity with their department teams.

Medical Student and Resident Scrubs

Medical schools and teaching hospitals have special scrub colors to identify trainees:

  • Light Blue – Worn by medical students.
  • Burgundy or Wine Red – Worn by residents and fellows.
  • Forest Green – Sometimes used by residents in surgery programs.
  • Yellow – Used by respiratory therapy students in some programs.

These colors quickly differentiate trainees from attending physicians and full-fledged nurses. Students and residents sometimes add their school logo to indicate where they are training.

Specialty Department Scrub Colors

In addition to the major hospital departments, many smaller specialties also have designated scrub colors:

  • Light Pink – OB/GYN clinics and labor & delivery units.
  • Pumple – Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, audiology.
  • Light Yellow – Radiation oncology departments.
  • Brown – Wound care, hyperbaric medicine, enterostomal therapy.
  • Orange – Phlebotomy, patient access, registration.
  • Coral – Rehabilitation services, massage therapy.

These colors help patients identify specialty areas of the hospital and build team spirit among smaller departments.

Non-Clinical Staff Scrub Colors

Employees in non-clinical roles also sometimes wear designated scrubs:

  • Khaki – Hospital security staff.
  • Black – Hospital chaplains and clergy members.
  • White – Unit secretaries and hospital administrators.
  • Purple – Hospital housekeeping staff.
  • Gray – Hospital facilities engineers and maintenance staff.

These colors differentiate non-medical staff while still allowing them to benefit from the comfort and durability of scrubs.

Veterinary Scrub Colors

Color-coded scrubs are also used in veterinary hospitals and clinics:

  • Purple – Veterinarians and surgeons.
  • Pink – Veterinary technicians and nurses.
  • Blue – Animal care assistants and non-medical staff.

These colors help differentiate roles and departments in animal care facilities just as they do in human hospitals.


The color of medical scrubs carries important meaning about the roles and departments of healthcare professionals. While there is some variation between facilities, the standard color conventions help patients identify personnel roles and allow staff to coordinate care while showing department unity. So the next time you visit a hospital or see medical staff, take note of their scrub colors and what they represent!