Being barefoot in medical facilities is usually no problem

Doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities generally are the least likely places to make an issue over someone coming in and remaining barefoot. I’ve come to this conclusion based on almost seventeen years personal experience, plus experiences recounted by other barefooters.      

My own experience shows medical offices are not likely to refuse a barefoot person

Since 2003, I’ve been in 6 different hospitals as a patient, for a total of 18 surgeries or procedures; and visited 73 different doctor’s offices, 8 dentists, and 32 other medical facilities (radiology, labs, etc.). Some of these I have visited many times over and over as a regular patient. In a few of these I was not a patient, but was accompanying my wife. I was barefoot and remained barefoot in all of these (except one). In 7 of these visits, a nurse or other staff employee initially told me I needed to have on shoes, but changed their mind after I explained that I never wear shoes. In one – only one – visit (to a dentist), I was totally refused service due to being barefoot.

Hospitals always try to get you to wear their cloth booties – you don’t have to

The main issue that I almost always have in a hospital as a patient is the nurses usually expect you to put on and wear their cloth booties they give you with your hospital gown. I’ve always had success in refusing them. It’s just a matter of being firm that you don’t ever wear anything on your feet and you’re not going to wear the booties. They’ve always backed off in their insistence.

I’ve heard many excuses to wear them, such as,

“We don’t want your feet to get cold.”

“We don’t want you to slip and fall.”

“Our floors are really dirty.”

“You need to wear them, it’s hospital policy.”

That last one is pretty bogus. No hospital (that I know of) is going to refuse service and send you home for simply refusing to put their cloth footwear on.

One funny conversation I had at my last hospital visit: While in Pre-op waiting to be taken to surgery, I told one nurse that I wanted to go to the restroom just before they came to take me to surgery. They hadn’t said anything before about the booties which I hadn’t put on. So, the nurse said, “OK, but you’ll have to put on these booties to walk on the floor.”

“No, I don’t need those. I never wear anything on my feet.”

She looked surprised, and said, “Well, how did you walk in here?”

“Barefoot, of course. Why not?”

“You came into the hospital barefoot?”

“Sure did. It’s not a problem.”

She just stood there looking like she’d seen a ghost, but didn’t argue further.

Turns out they came to get me sooner than expected and suggested I just quickly use the hand held urinal so they wouldn’t have to get me all unhooked from various monitors to get up and walk. So into the surgery I went, happily still barefoot as usual.

I was in the hospital for four days that time, which meant I was attended by numerous nurses, day and night. During that time, anytime I needed to get out of bed, I had to contact a nurse first. And of course unless I’d already had a conversation with the particular nurse on duty, they usually (not always) suggested putting on the booties before walking on the floor. I always politely declined, and there was usually no argument about it.

One particular morning I remember, a new female CNA came in, very young, very friendly. In response to my question, she said she’d only been working as a nurse a few months. I mentioned I needed to get out of bed to go to the restroom. I just thought I’d go ahead and head off any argument or concern over my bare feet in advance, so I said,

“And I just want to let you know right off, I always go barefoot, and I don’t wear those cloth booties. It’s not a problem.”

She just smiled and said, “OK,” and that was it.

As a hospital patient, you CAN walk barefoot in their halls – if you insist

There was another interesting little incident while I was there in the hospital that time. One day, three people from Physical Therapy came in and said they wanted to get me up to take a little walk out in the hall. Of course, seeing I was barefoot, they said I had to put on the booties to be “safe.”

After a short conversation in which I explained that I never wear anything on my feet to walk anywhere and sure was not going to start then, they reluctantly relented, and took me out to walk in the hall barefoot. They said people would probably be staring at me with nothing on my feet. I laughed, and told them that was nothing new. It was a nice walk. I enjoyed it very much.

These experiences described above are just typical of my experience every I’ve been in a hospital over the years. I’ve always been barefoot throughout my stays. And I believe anyone can if they just stand up for themselves and refuse to be intimidated.

Some hospital security guards erroneously believe footwear is ‘required’

At another time, a couple of years ago, in the same hospital, I had to take my wife to the emergency room. And there for the very first time ever at that hospital, I got hassled by a security guard.

Right after we got there and were waiting for my wife to be seen, I walked down the hall to the restroom. When I came out, there was a guard standing in the middle of the hall where I was about to walk. Apparently he had seen me before and was waiting for me to come out. I went past him, and he immediately came up to my side, saying something about he worked in security at the hospital and that I needed to put on some kind of shoes or socks in the hospital.

I kept walking as he stayed by my side, and I said, “No, I don’t wear shoes, and this hospital has no such rule.”

He said, “Actually there is a rule that you have to wear shoes here.”

I said, with strong emphasis , “Actually there is no such rule. I have a letter from the hospital. I’ll be fine.”

By that time, I was almost back to where my wife was sitting. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw the guard was gone.

A few minutes after sitting back down, I saw the guard again, this time with a very stern looking older female nurse with him. He pointed toward me, and the nurse came over with some cloth booties in her hand and said, “You need to put these on your feet.”

I said, “I don’t wear shoes or anything else on my feet. It’s how I live my life.”

She seemed flustered by my unexpected answer, and said, “But what about all these germs under your feet?”

“No different from the germs under your shoes. There’s no harm either way. I’ll be fine.”

She kind of threw up her hands and walked away. I saw her say something to the guard who had been standing back watching, then they both walked away.

That was the end of it. No more problems from anyone else. My wife was eventually taken to an exam room where a doctor and numerous nurses were in and out. No one said a word to me about my bare feet. Once again, proof that if you stand your ground in a hospital or other medical facility, your personal choice of no footwear will likely always prevail.

I persuaded a hospital to remove its signs showing a shoe requirement a few years ago

As to the letter from the hospital I had mentioned, that letter was the result of my efforts several years ago to get the hospital to remove signs reading “Shoes and shirts required” on two of its entrance doors. I finally convinced them that such rules on their doors violated their stated core principles of inclusion and respect for all patients regardless of their lifestyle. They eventually removed the signs.

Letter received from hospital confirming "shoes required" signs were being removed
Letter received from hospital confirming signs being removed.

I’m not aware of any other hospitals that have such rude and unwelcoming signs on their doors, but it’s quite possible somewhere in different parts of the country. My advice would be to first check the hospital’s published core values about non-discrimination and inclusion. If the wording there conflicts with having such signs on the doors, then simply ignore such signs and be ready if necessary to defend your free will choice to be barefoot as being in conformance with the hospital core values – or, conversely, the signs not being in conformance with the hospital values. In any case, being resolute and standing your ground on never wearing footwear will most likely always prevail.

Doctor’s offices would almost never refuse services to a barefoot person

For individual doctor’s offices, I almost never have an issue with anyone about my bare feet. Occasionally I might get a question usually out of friendly curiosity, such as “Where are your shoes?”

To that, usually only a simple, “Oh, I don’t wear shoes,” will suffice. Though a few times I’ve gotten into some longer conversations with nurses who were curious about specifically why I don’t wear shoes, or were curious about various myths they may have heard about going barefoot in public. Almost always very friendly and respectful exchanges.

But in very rare circumstances, you could be hassled for bare feet in a doctor’s office

As I mentioned earlier, over the years while visiting well over 100 different doctor’s offices and medical facilities (some many times), only 8 initially made an issue over my bare feet, with 7 of those eventually accepting my choice to be barefoot. The very first time that happened as I recall, back in 2007, was probably the rudest one.

I had been seeing a doctor for a shoulder problem, and no one had said a word about my feet before that particular day. First I was taken back to the examining room where the nurse asked me a few routine medical questions, then she left.

A short while later, there was a brief knock and the door opened, where I had expected to see the doctor, but it was a male nurse.

The conversation went something like this:

He said, “I brought some booties for you to put on your feet.”

Then he laid them on the table beside me.

I said, “What’s the purpose of that?”

“This is a medical office. It’s the law.”

“What are you talking about? There’s no such law as that.” (That
really angered me.)

“Well, it’s our law, it’s our rule.”

“Again, what’s the reason for it?”

“It’s just a rule set up by our management.”

“Look, I go barefoot for health reasons. I’ve gone barefoot for years. I do not wear shoes, and I’m not starting now. So, what is putting these things on going to accomplish?”

“We have open surgical wounds here.”

“And you think I’m going to be putting my feet up against open surgical wounds? Come on! I’m not putting these on.”

Then he said, “OK, that’s fine. I’m just telling you.”

I was ready to walk out if he’d given me any more crap. But he then turned and left the room. I wasn’t sure if he’d resigned himself to my refusal or was going to send somebody else of higher authority in. I sat there just waiting to see what might happen next.

But nothing happened other than the doctor came in, examined me, and eventually gave me an injection. Neither he nor anyone else said anything else about my feet.

And that is just one more example of standing your ground, even in the face of strong intimidation and rudeness, and you are most likely going to be able to remain barefoot without any actual refusal of service in a medical facility.

No studies or surveys are available confirming my conclusions, but I believe them to be true

My experiences and conclusions reached of course may not be true for everyone or apply to certain parts of the country where attitudes of doctors or hospitals may be less respectful to patients. This is a topic where there are no studies or surveys available on the internet or anywhere else. So this article may be the only source of information on this subject available to those of us who have chosen to live barefoot.

There are logical reasons why medical facilities are less likely to object to bare feet

I can only guess at why medical facilities seem more open to welcoming someone barefoot, more so than some other public places such as stores or restaurants. It very well could be that most doctors and nurses in general are better educated, and have particular knowledge of exactly how infections can occur or be spread – bare feet not likely to ever be a source of that, contrary to popular myth among less informed folks. For example, I have never heard anyone in any doctor’s office or medical facility say, “Shoes are required by the Health Department.”

Going barefoot to a dentist's office is usually no problem
Going to the dentist can often be unpleasant, but being barefoot there makes the experience much more tolerable.

Another related factor might be the fact that doctors and hospitals in general have a higher purpose in serving the public, not as a bottom-line oriented business that feels it can set up arbitrary rules to exclude certain people based only on their appearance or mode of attire, but as healers of the sick and suffering, with less concern for their appearance or lifestyle.

Yes, doctors and hospitals can choose to refuse to treat someone for a variety of reasons. But for being a barefoot patient, that refusal is not very likely. The negative examples I gave above indeed represent rare happenings.


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Steve Rogers
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Steve Rogers

Great article Kriss. I have had some similar experiences in hospitals. No booties for me.

brian neuls
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brian neuls

Yes, great article. I’ve been hassled a few times too. Generally, when visiting a doctor’s office I will ask ahead of time, out of politeness and because I respect private property owner’s rights. I recall strolling the halls barefoot at a hospital once and having most staff ask if I wanted the booties but refusing and never getting a hassle. I did have a nurse who also served in the infectious disease unit mention that the floors there were not surgically clean and no one ever switched shoes to enter or leave. She suggested that all sorts of stuff could… Read more »

dave
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dave

hospitals and medical centres need to follow work health and safety regulations this regulation applies to everyone that enters a workplace. Regulation 47 – Duty of person other than worker Regulation 47 requires a person other than a worker to wear personal protective equipment at a workplace in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the PCBU at the workplace. you are not allowed to get on a bus without shoes, so you dont use busses. you are not allowed to enter parliament house without shoes, so you dont go there. you are not allowed to enter… Read more »

Sue Grayson
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Sue Grayson

Dave, I’m not sure what part of Australia you are referring to.
I’ve never been denied entry to any Australian hospital or medical facility for being barefoot. I’ve never been denied a ride on any Australian bus or train for being barefoot.
This regulation 47 you speak of has never been used to ban my bare feet from anywhere in Australia.