Men grow beards to make themselves look more attractive. After all, lush facial hair can project masculinity, strength, and dominance.
In the highly competitive surgical industry, beards can have another role. Male surgeons tend to grow beards because, without them, they appear younger and novice.
Having facial hair can make surgeons look wiser, more experienced, and confident. It also makes it more evident that they already graduated from surgical training years ago.
However, male surgeons having beards is a controversial issue. They can either keep a beard or find themselves required to shave based on the national or hospital policies.
Why do beards pose a contentious division in the medical community?
Facial hair can get dirty. As it collects sweat, oils, dust, and bits of food, beards can become a habitat for dangerous bacteria and microorganisms.
This fact is the risk that many hospitals and medical organizations consider. They respect the surgeons’ choice to retain facial hair while acknowledging that there is no firm evidence to condemn beards.
Because of this, the American College of Surgeons allows beards as long as they are covered. It even tolerates some facial hair to stay reasonably uncovered.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, however, beards kept some physicians and surgeons from properly wearing their surgical masks and protective equipment. The government stepped in to force them to shave in response.
As early as the 1800s, medical professionals struggled with the issue of facial hair. Indeed, since the beginnings of formal medicine practice, beards have posed a problem for physicians, nurses, and surgeons.
In the 1895 Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Dr F.A. Colby argued that beards give “comfort” during troublesome diagnoses and weather. Facial hair can also hide their self-doubt and youth, Colby declared.
But in the same article, he revealed the risks of having a beard while practising medicine: hygiene and sanitation.
This hundred-year-old concern makes sense. Beards can be challenging to disinfect, spreading germs and microbes. Since physicians and surgeons meticulously prevent infections, it may be logical to shave their beards off.
Research through the decades supports this idea. In 1967, a small study in laboratory settings showed that microorganisms and chemicals stay on beards even after washing them with water and soap.
Another experiment in 2000 revealed that bearded people spread more bacteria even if they wear masks. Because of this, the researchers recommended that bearded men should think about removing their facial hair.
But recent studies conflict with the case against beards. In 2014, the research released by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital concluded that bearded and non-bearded men have the same risk of spreading bacteria.
Two years later, in 2016, researchers posted their findings regarding this issue on the National Center for Biotechnology Information. They proved that surgeons with facial hair wearing surgical masks do not pose a higher risk of infecting patients.
Can surgeons have beards? There is no clear-cut answer. It depends on the surgeon’s preference, the hospital’s policy, and the national healthcare agency’s mandate.