By Laura Webb, BSN-RN, MRP
It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, as a nursing student, I wore a starched-white uniform trimmed in deep burgundy tones. The outfit included a white pinafore smock, attached to the front of the bodice with large, white buttons. This smock was designed to serve as a kind of bib, unbuttoning from the uniform at the shoulders and waist for ease of laundering.
As a new nursing student, I was thrilled to don my first “real” nursing outfit, but I soon realized that I was definitely not headed for any glamour shots in that uniform. It never failed to attract comments, and a few comical looks, from experienced nurses.
I wore the uniform to clinicals for over a year before our school decided to upgrade (and join the rest of the 21st Century) to a more modern look. The new uniform colors did not change, but these were more burgundy than white, and the scrubs were much more modern in appearance.
I was certainly more comfortable, physically and emotionally, in this new student uniform. It felt good to blend in with the other hospital staff. I no longer had to endure comments or stares. And, I no longer spent my mornings ironing the smocking on that snow-white pinafore.
While I no longer felt conspicuous, I also experienced a bit of a let down with the new uniform. I sensed a loss of individuality. After all, non-descript uniforms like scrubs can make everyone look and feel the same.
That sense of a lost (or blended) identity not only impacts the individual nurse. It can also affect patients and their guests.
How many times have patients told you that they have trouble telling “who’s who” among the staff? I often hear patients say that they don’t know if they are talking to a nurse, a doctor, or a member of the housekeeping staff. And no wonder! We are all walking around in some kind of scrubs.
One of our most senior professors in nursing school fought to keep the original uniform intact. After we adopted the newer, scrubbier outfits, she would often shake her head in dismay and sigh, “I can’t tell the patients from the nurses these days. They are all going about in their pajamas!”
Soon after graduation, I was pleased to discover that scrubs do not have to be boring. There is a huge assortment of scrubs available, from colorful patterns to tailored duds. Once again, I could feel unique in my work attire, without feeling too conspicuous.
Some of my colleagues refer to these as “designer scrubs” and stubbornly refuse to buy them. But, I like to think that these scrubs are both professional and unique. A nicely designed set of scrubs does not have to be expensive or gaudy.
We often hear that professionals should “dress for success.” Like it or not, our appearance sends a message to others: our patients, their loved ones, and our colleagues. And, I feel better about myself when my clothes fit well, and are neat and clean and attractive – even when my clothes are scrubs.
But how far should you take it? I know nurses who iron their scrubs before every shift. While I would never go to work in torn or wrinkled clothes, I rarely resort to ironing my scrubs. In most clinical environments, scrubs will not stay pressed for long, and I don’t want my clothes to interfere with my ability to “roll up my sleeves” and work.
Do you think that a well-pressed uniform is important? Does your facility require a certain color of scrubs for each service (e.g., pale green for OR or blue for food service)? Do you opt for “designer scrubs” if they’re allowed?
Monday, July 22, 2013
By Laura Webb, BSN-RN, MRP