What ever happenned to wearing white?

Doll in Nursing Uniform
Doll in Nursing Uniform

My first nursing uniform as an aide was a green dress. Starched. With a belt. The next, as a nursing student, was a blue and white striped dress, covered with a white starched apron. And, finally, how good it was three years later as a graduate to wear white–a long-sleeved, knee-length dress with French cuffs. I’d worked very hard to earn wearing white.

That was back in the sixties. I was proud to wear white. I loved looking professional. I didn’t mind the extra laundry. My favorite was made of cotton with a standup collar, short sleeves, and drawstring waist. I bought two, so one would always be clean.

Patients at my hospital knew those of us wearing white with a black stripe on our caps were the registered nurses. The LPNs wore white with a gray stripe on their caps. The aides wore white, but no caps.

Then came the early eighties. The nurses in the hospital where I was working wanted to ditch their caps. An almost sacrilegious request until someone resurrected a study describing the plethora of bacteria that took up residence on nurses’ caps. But if we were to ditch our caps, how would patients know we were the nurses?

The solution? A bright red piece of plastic stating “RN” along the lower edge that served as a backdrop for a picture ID. This pleased the nurses as well as administration and patients. We achieved a smart modern look–I mean, doctors didn’t wear caps, did they? And we had no more worry of  bugs tripping off our caps into patients’ wounds or of bed curtains knocking them askew as we squeezed ourselves into small spaces to give our patients their baths.

By the eighties, I was teaching nursing. My uniform changed to a white lab coat over street clothes, attire I’d never dreamed of as a student. Until around that time, the only professionals wearing lab coats were physicians. I guess you could say I’d arrived.

But you may know what happened then to nursing uniforms. Scrubs. Those baggy tops with drawstring pants in all colors, some even in nursery prints–anything to brighten the pediatric patients’ stay and make nurses look more like entertainers than professional caregivers.

In recent years, patients have spoken up. They have so many people coming in and out of their rooms each day, they can’t tell a nurse from an aide from housekeeping from dietary. So some hospitals are adopting a color code. Yes, you read that right. We will be color-coded much like the socks in your drawer or the jumper cables in your trunk. And nurses vary in their enthusiasm about these new uniform policies. Click here and read: Some Nurses Blue Over Color-Coded Uniform Policy.

I’m wondering, have you ever wondered if that “nurse” in your life is really a nurse? And, what do you think nurses should wear? How would you like to see them identified?

Photo credit: VCU Libraries