Operating room doctors lament attacks on personalized cloth caps

Operating room doctors lament attacks on personalized cloth caps

Retired anesthetist Dr. Glenn Gibson believes he was an early trendsetter in slipping on brightly coloured cloth caps before heading into the operating room.

So he was a bit disappointed when some hospitals started to ban the cloth protective headwear, which allow doctors to show a little personality.

“I like cloth OR caps. I got tired of wearing the plain green ones, so about 25 years ago I started making my own … with ridiculous colours and designs that nobody would buy,” said Gibson, who estimates he had about four dozen at one point.

A recent edition of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons suggests that freshly laundered cloth operating room hats are better at controlling microbial shed than the disposal shower-cap style “bouffant” hats that many hospitals have been forcing staff to wear in the name of infection control.

For many, the publication was cause for celebration.

Some operating room staff have long complained that the disposable bouffant caps are hot, make it hard to hear people, and reduce the little bit of personality available in a place where all staff wear the same scrubs.

Many also grumbled that the evidence that resulted in banning cloth hats was weak and that disposable bouffant caps create a lot of garbage.

“The cloth cap ban did generate some debate, some of which centred on evidence-based medicine (or lack of it) and some of which was likely vanity driven,” said cloth cap fan Dr. Lesley Barron, a general surgeon in Georgetown, Ont.

Some have argued that personalized caps — featuring cartoons, favourite team logos, or festive scenes —can also improve patient care by decreasing pre-operative anxiety.

“You can chat about your hat while (the patients) are going off to sleep,” said Barron.

But Molly Blake, president of Infection Prevention and Control Canada, is not quite as enthusiastic. She highlighted the main caveat of the study: that reusable cloth caps need to be regularly washed.

“The safe and appropriate management of scrubs is already challenging … you may have seen health-care workers wearing scrubs — and cloth skull caps — travelling throughout hospitals and then wearing the same into the ORs,” Blake said, adding that the cleaning methods discussed in the study were not “normal practice” in her experience.

Blake also suggested the findings of the study should be replicated in an experiment with a bigger sample size before endorsing cloth caps.

But not all hospitals banned cloth hats in the first place.

“To be honest, we did not give a great deal of consideration to banning cloth hats because we felt the evidence wasn’t strong enough to support it,” said Jason Hann, director of surgical and critical care services at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

“Of course, we have conditions that must be met in order to ensure patient safety, but this has not been a problem.”

While an individual hospital’s infection control policy might be explicit, the fashion rules about operating room headwear are often more subtle: some feel there are gendered norms and silent expectations.

“The culture is definitely (cloth) skull caps for boys, bouffants for women,” said Barron.

Though confessing that she finds cloth caps “ugly,” Barron does admit that they give more room for hair, prevent overheating, and are less likely to create “OR head” — a condition similar to “bed head”. While women with short hair often wear cloth caps in the operating room, in doing so, they risk gender misidentification.

Family doctor and anesthetist Dr. Annie Lu owns several cloth caps with Asian-styled dragon prints, but said, “when I wear them, I get mistaken for a guy by patients sometimes. There seems to be some notion of gender based on the style or design of the cap.”

And though a medical student might be eager to show off a little personality, tradition dictates otherwise.

“It would seem pretentious of a med student to already have custom cloth hats,” warned Dr. Kyle Sue, a family doctor in Arviat, Nunavut. Some surgeons believe that medical students should only wear cloth hats after they have matched to a surgical specialty for their residency.

Most operating room staff who do wear cloth hats get them from a co-worker who makes them.

After volunteering in a hospital in the Volta region of Ghana, Montreal nurse Julia Garland decided to start fundraising with handmade cloth hats and has raised over $10,000 to date, enough to fund three separate yearlong scholarships for Ghanaian nurses.

Beyond the print design, there are other ways the hats can be customized: built-in sweatbands can be added, a little extra room for those with ponytails, and reversible fabrics for the indecisive.

Gibson is glad he managed to avoid a cloth cap ban during his career.

“I would have been sad, as I felt the crazy designs on my hats were very helpful with children,” he said.

“I was up to a total of 48 different hats. Every morning it was a tough decision which one to wear, depending on whether the patients were adults or children.”

— Dr. Sarah Giles is a family/emergency room doctor and a fellow in global journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Sarah Giles, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

If you're heading out to the West Country have a plan in case things go wrong, says Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services fire chief Steve Debienne.
(Photo from CRFRS Facebook)
West Country visitors should have an emergency plan: regional fire chief

Cellphones can’t be relied on in many back country areas

Rode
Sarcevic leads an impressive list of additions to RDC Kings soccer

In 2019 the RDC Kings soccer program took a major step forward… Continue reading

The Red Deer PCN Women's Fun Run will take on a different look this weekend with rising COVID-19 numbers.
Women’s Fun Run goes ahead this weekend in Red Deer

With new public health measures in place because of rising COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw asked Albertans to limit travel throughout the province as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears 900 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports additional 2,211 COVID-19 cases

David Eggen, the NDP’s advanced education critic, said the UCP government has been focused on cutting funding to post-secondary institutions across Alberta. (Contributed photo)
NDP worry new status for Red Deer College doesn’t mean more funding

This week the province announced that RDC will become a polytechnic institute

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Toronto Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (37) hits a single to drive in two runs against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductee Jayna Hefford speaks in Toronto on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson, centre, makes a shot as lead Briane Meilleur, left, and second Shannon Birchard sweep against Denmark at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, May 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Canadian athletes, coaches applaud news of vaccine doses ahead of Tokyo

Canadian athletes, coaches applaud news of vaccine doses ahead of Tokyo

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals pressed to ease access to EI parental leave to help unemployed moms

Liberals pressed to ease access to EI parental leave to help unemployed moms

Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, appears as a witness via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee in Ottawa, Thursday, July 30, 2020. The Canadian Press has learned that Katie Telford has written members of the defence committee inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against Canada's former top military commander, offering to testify at their meeting Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
PM’s chief of staff offers to testify on Vance sexual misconduct allegations

PM’s chief of staff offers to testify on Vance sexual misconduct allegations

Most Read