Which Shoes Are Best for Long Hospital Shifts?

Ted R. Melnick, MD


December 03, 2007


Do you have any shoe recommendations for those long days on your feet at the hospital?

Response From the Expert

Ted R. Melnick, MD
Chief Resident, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine; House Staff, The Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, NY


The answer to this question is really a 2-parter. Not only should your shoes be comfortable but, if you have the wrong shoes or don't take proper care of your feet, you may also end up with some really stinky feet. Having run 4 marathons and competed in dozens of triathlons, I take foot care pretty seriously. That means choosing a shoe that is not only comfortable for a long day, but also following some simple guidelines to prevent my feet from getting too stinky.

When I run a marathon, I want a running shoe with a lot of cushioning to help absorb the impact on my feet before it transfers to my legs, knees, and back. However, the opposite is true for a long day in the operating room (OR) or on rounds. In these settings, you are going to be standing for prolonged periods of time, so you need a shoe that gives your foot a lot of support and doesn't have too much "give" in it. It should support your foot in an anatomic position, more evenly distributing the weight of your body to the bones of your legs and back.

If you have a well-cushioned walking or running shoe, it will keep you comfortable during the long walks from one hospital ward to another. However, during a long procedure in the OR or on long walk rounds (this is making rounds while standing as opposed to sitting or walking for that matter), that cushioning will do a poor job of distributing the weight of your body. The result will be sore, aching feet. Needless to say, if you are busy concentrating on the pain in your feet, you are liable to miss out on plenty of learning opportunities.

One other big tip is to find a shoe that easily slips on and off. When you are seated, you can slip them off and let your feet rest, stretch, and breathe. More important, though, is the efficiency this type of shoe allows you in the call room. You can quickly slip out of them and get some rest during the limited time you have to sleep during an overnight call. And when a code is called in the middle of the night, you can slip your shoes on quickly and be one of the first students to respond. This efficiency may mean the difference between performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillating a patient and being asked to leave the room because there are already too many residents and students present.

So, what have I just described? A shoe that has both firm support and slips on and off. Well, it should be no surprise that a favorite type of shoes worn by professionals whose work requires prolonged standing (eg, doctors, nurses, chefs, teachers) is the clog. Sure, clogs haven't been part of mainstream fashion since the 1970s. However, in hospitals across the country, you will find that many medical students and doctors have continued to wear these shoes because of their comfort and practicality on the job.

My opinion is that the Dansko Professional made of box leather is the highest-quality and most reliable clog on the market for the purposes of a medical student or resident. The $115 price tag may seem steep, but the pair I bought 5 years ago is still going strong. Dansko.com states that the box leather material "is ideal for workplace environments with wet, acidic or greasy conditions." Translation: bodily fluids won't stain these shoes; in fact, they wipe right off.

Okay, so now you know what kind of shoes to wear, but those long days of standing may still culture some dreadfully stinky feet. Here are some tips to avoid that nasty problem:

  • Anyone who has watched a Vietnam war movie knows the importance of dry feet and socks for good foot hygiene. Well, carry the analogy 1 step further. Let your shoes dry out overnight; better yet, rotate 2 pairs of shoes so that each pair dries out completely before you wear it again. If you are working more than 24 hours straight, change to a dry, fresh pair of socks midway through your shift. Also, remember to slip off your shoes and let your feet breathe whenever the opportunity presents itself.

  • Look for a pair of shoes made of a breathable fabric or with an antimicrobial foot bed. You can also find socks made of breathable, wicking fabric that will help you in your quest for nonstinky feet. Be careful with Crocs; although they are well ventilated with many holes, the rubber material does not breathe (not to mention that all those ventilating holes may be a needlestick waiting to happen).

  • Finally, I have never again experienced foot odor since the day I first borrowed my wife's exfoliating foot scrub. Bath and Body Works Toe the Line foot scrub works wonders!