Take a moment to Google “self-defense for nurses” or “safety for nurses.” A veritable laundry list of articles pops up suggesting nurses wear rape whistles or panic buttons, install GPS tracking apps on their phones, or (my personal favorite) put their keys in their scrubs pockets to use between their fingers as makeshift weapons. (Never do that. It will end with your own fingers severely lacerated and/or broken.)

Figuring out how to defend your life while wearing scrubs in a non-permissive environment is a tough question whether you’re a new or experienced gun owner. If you’re looking for self-defense methods or tools beyond firearms to use when you don your scrubs, you’ve come to the right place. These are my suggestions for having your own back when you cannot carry your gun.

Concealed Carry for Nurses

Before I dive into backup self-defense methods and tools, a quick word on firearms. Hospitals are largely non-permissive environments. I carried while wearing scrubs for years, but that was veterinary medicine (and the rules are different there). If you find yourself in a situation where you can carry your firearm while wearing scrubs, check out the CrossBreed Modular Belly Band. What makes CrossBreed’s design ideal is the Kydex-faced hybrid holster that fits your handgun, making it an actual holster rather than just a strip of stretchy material you Velcro on top of your gun. My experience has been that an ankle holster simply does not work with scrubs, and obviously you cannot wear a holster OWB. There’s an entire tub of discarded belly bands in my gun room, and I am confident suggesting the CrossBreed Modular Belly Band for when you’re in scrubs.

Is Pepper Spray/OC Spray an Option?

Some people will likely suggest you carry pepper spray. Keep in mind we’re talking about self-defense in a life-or-death situation (not in the case of an unruly patient). This is when your life is on the line. Maybe there’s an active shooter in the building. Maybe you can’t put on your gun until you remove it from the locked safe in your car and you need something for the walk from the hospital to your car. Normally, I’d be all over suggesting pepper spray as a legitimate secondary defensive tool, but not this time.

If you’re going to use the pepper spray for only the walk between the building and your car, fine. But if you’re considering using it inside the hospital itself, take a moment to consider what you’re suggesting. The hospital is not only an enclosed space where you’re likely to have a cluster of people in close proximity at the moment you deploy the pepper spray but also a space filled with … sick people. There are likely asthmatics and countless other patients with issues affecting their breathing. Pepper spray spreads through the air. Just imagine the consequences if you let loose with pepper spray anywhere in the remote vicinity of someone with poor lung function.

Martial Arts

Yes: Serious, dedicated time training in the martial arts is a fantastic addition to your self-defense repertoire. It does take time to train to the point where it’s going to be useful if you’re ever attacked, but it is worth that investment. Whether you’re a nurse or not, you should consider getting time on a mat. But it does take time and money, and it isn’t an immediate solution.


When I was 10, my gun-averse mother put me in a self-defense class with a bunch of adults. Part of the class involved the use of a kubotan — a long, cylindrical metal tool with a key ring attachment at one end. Most have a pointed but blunted tip. Some do have flat ends. As it turns out, the kubotan is a good idea as a secondary defense tool. Renowned firearms instructor Massad Ayoob suggests these as well.

Don’t just buy a kubotan and assume you’re good to go. Just as with firearms and pepper spray, you need to be taught how to use a kubotan. So find a class from a qualified instructor. If the appearance of a kubotan/persuader is an issue for you, check out the tactical pens on the market. It’s easy enough to put one in your pocket alongside an ink pen.

Edged Weapons

This is where I mention knives but with the disclaimer that odds are they’re banned in your hospital. Knives are handy for everything from opening boxes to cutting food and technically are not “only” self-defense tools. Having good knives on hand is just what a prepared person does. Whether you can have one on you in the hospital is another story entirely. If you do decide to carry a knife for self-defense at any time, get training. You might be amazed what an experienced person can do with a knife and just how unwieldy it can be in inexperienced hands. You need to learn how to hold it, and you must learn to use it properly and effectively. After all, you’re going to have an extremely narrow window of time in which to defend your life.

Tactical Flashlights

A tactical flashlight differs from a standard flashlight in a few ways. It typically has an activation button at the base so you can push it with your thumb with no risk of accidentally turning it off while gripping its body. And it’s usually made to be used as a blunt object during a violent encounter. The Streamlight ProTac HL 750 is a good model to consider because it’s both weather-resistant and high-impact-resistant. SureFire also makes good tactical flashlights, as do a number of other respected manufacturers.

When choosing a tactical flashlight, check out what kind of battery or batteries it takes. Some require harder-to-find batteries like CR123s. Streamlight makes flashlights with USB rechargeable batteries — a real timesaver (saves money too). And, once again, I will say it: Get trained in how to use a tactical flashlight to strike an assailant. Blind, wild flailing and hoping for the best is never the way to go.

Nurses and Stun Guns

Not to be confused with a taser, a stun gun is a direct-contact self-defense weapon that delivers an electrical current to an assailant. Whether you can carry one in your hospital is going to be specific to the hospital itself; whether you can carry it unrestricted in general depends on your state. Stun guns are available in a spectrum of sizes, colors and voltages.

The Sabre S-1005 Dual Stun Gun is a nice little design with a cord as its power source for charging. Bonus points because the Sabre has a built-in 120-lumen flashlight. The design is ergonomic and fits my hand well. It also has a sound feature that emits a 95-decibel alert to signal people in the general area to your plight. Another good one is the Vipertek VTS-989 that has spike electrodes to help the current get through clothing (yes, if your attacker is wearing heavy layers of clothing, it gets harder to use a stun gun effectively).

You’ll hear some say stun guns should be measured by volts and some say they should be judged by microcoulombs. The reasoning behind the microcoulombs statement is because a stun gun is worthless if it cannot hold a charge long enough to deliver that voltage effectively. This is known as the delivered charge. Basically, you could say a good stun gun worth considering is capable of at least 1 million volts or of 1.6 microcoulombs. In reality, you should be paying attention to microcoulombs as a measure of electrical quantity and efficacy, not voltage. Capacity over 1.0 microcoulombs is thought to deliver “intolerable pain.”

In addition, your stun gun must be made well enough to cut the risk of you stunning yourself in a struggle. Its power source matters too. Make sure your model of stun gun will hold a charge long enough and recharge quickly and efficiently. Some take normal batteries, some have rechargeable batteries, and still others can be plugged in to charge.

Bottom Line

How you choose to gear up and defend yourself while wearing scrubs is up to you. There are some (not many) hospitals where guns are not specifically prohibited. It’s up to you to be familiar with the rules and regulations for self-defense tools at the hospital or doctor’s office where you work. You must also know your state and county laws regarding use, carry methods and concealment. Know your laws. Know your hospital’s rules. And above all, make good choices. Stay safe.


CrossBreed: CrossBreedHolsters.com
Streamlight: Streamlight.com
SureFire: Surefire.com
Sabre: SabreRed.com
Vipertek: VipertekProducts.com

About Kat Ainsworth

Kat Ainsworth is a firearms enthusiast with 15 years of concealed carry experience and more than 20 years of hunting knowledge. She has an eclectic background of K9 Search-and-Rescue and emergency veterinary medicine. Kat currently works as an outdoors freelance writer, covering everything from ballistics to self-defense to hunting. She enjoys the nomadic side of her writing and gun-related lifestyle.