In S03E04 episode of Voyager (The swarm) we see the Doctor aka EMH, prepare to operate on Lt Tom Paris. Surprisingly, he seems to be sterilising his hands with a machine that emits a faint red light. Of course that could be for something else, but he explicitly says he's scrubbing

KES: Doctor, I have the cortical analeptics you asked for.

EMH: Good. Fill the hyposprays, we'll begin as soon as I've finished scrubbing.

However we know that the Doctor is a hologram and can at will alter his projection, so he could, for example disable the forcefield momentarily to get rid of the bacteria and then enable it again so as to operate.

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Why did he need to scrub in before the operation?

  • 4
    Maybe the Doc wants to emulate humans. Oh, sorry, wrong artificial being. Oct 2, 2017 at 14:19
  • 1
    @T-1000'sSon. Guess your dad did a pretty good job, based on that user name :) Oct 2, 2017 at 19:55
  • My old user name was "T-1000," so I figured I should continue the charade further. Oct 2, 2017 at 20:44
  • It's also kind of funny that he touches the scrubbing machine after cleaning his hands which seemingly defeats the purpose of the process.
    – shim
    May 6, 2021 at 2:03

1 Answer 1


The very short answer is that he doesn't need to scrub in. That's literally the point of this scene although I suspect looking at the comments on the internet that this was waaay too subtle for all but the nerdiest of Trek nerds to notice, let alone work out what was going on. Heck, even Kes doesn't notice or her next line would be something like...

Kes: Doctor, why the hell are you scrubbing in when you're a hologram? Kes to Ensign Kim, the EMH is suffering a malfunction and is about to do surgery!!

We learn later in the episode that the EMH is malfunctioning as a result of his ill-advised attempts to integrate new information into his program and its inevitable degradation. In a later scene we see an even more clear indication that he's forgotten that he's a hologram and the limitations (and indeed benefits) that come with his photonic and force field-based nature.

EMH: I fail to understand why I can't leave this room. Stand aside, young woman, or I will have you put on report!

KES: Doctor, please, I'm just trying to keep you safe.

EMH: Others can leave, you can leave. Why can't I leave?

KES: Because your holoprojectors don't work in the corridor.

EMH: My what?

Voy: The Swarm

  • 43
    "...was waaay too subtle for all but the nerdiest of trek nerds to notice" I'll take that as a complement, thanks!
    – Hans Olo
    Oct 1, 2017 at 11:02
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    @Xantec - Except that we see him do surgery on other occasions without scrubbing in. This is literally the only time we see him using that piece of kit.
    – Valorum
    Oct 1, 2017 at 11:54
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    @Xantec - Sure, but we actually see the Doc go from 'standing around doing not much of anything' to actually doing surgery in a bunch of episodes and all without scrubbing or putting on gloves.
    – Valorum
    Oct 1, 2017 at 11:59
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    @Valorum Given the methods of surgery in the Star Trek universe, one has to wonder if even a human doctor would really need scrubbing pre-surgery for the surgery to be safe. Most of the time they are just waving some gadget over the patient's body, anyway; that's hardly likely to introduce any germs into the patient's body. Every once in a while they administer medication, typically through hyposprays; in such cases, at most, the hyposprays would need to be sterile, but not necessarily the person handling them.
    – user
    Oct 1, 2017 at 12:02
  • 44
    @MichaelKjörling - I'm definitely more inclined to believe that this is subtle foreshadowing of his later mental breakdown than a mere writing error.
    – Valorum
    Oct 1, 2017 at 12:07

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