Nov. 12, 2017


Why did nurses wear white? Dresses no less? To play the role of 'Brides of physicians'? To easier bleach away impurities? To promote a sense of calm in patients? To easier identify bodily fluids on one's person? Because it looks professional?
The heart and truth of the matter is that nurses wore little white dresses for the same reason we wear them on our wedding day. Silly TRADITION based on an archaic and chauvinist view of women and society as a whole.

The white nursing dress was chosen to symbolize purity and virtue, but more importantly, the dress was chosen to differentiate the male role (doctor) from the female role (nurse). Nursing is and has been the most highly trusted profession in the country (except for post 9/11, when we fell behind firemen and police); and honestly who is more trustworthy than a virginal college graduate who sacrifices her life to tend to the ill? We were carefully vetted, coralled into female only dorms, and constantly hospital educated. That is until our Prince charming came and swept us off our feet and into a life of homemaking.

White equals purity, cleanliness, sterility. All things that healthcare strives to be, but in reality just isn't. Nursing may be one of the dirtiest jobs known to woMan. So, of course it makes sense to put caregivers in white, and cover them in bodily muck.
Nurses wore these white dresses until the feminist movement. Then, in the 60's, administration finally listened when we told them that we were more efficient in pants; we could move faster, bend, crouch, and lift. So, lucky for us, runs in stockings became a thing of the past. We could also launder with more ease if white was off the table; not to mention, concealing human imperfections and hiding stains.

So why are we going back? Hospitals around the country are forcing nursing staff back into white. We certainly aren't virgins anymore. And it's not like we're doing any less laundry. Why have we let the proverbial 'them' take away this simple right to comfort and identity once again, and so soon after just recieving it? Studies suggest that the reason is Professionalism, and so patients can easier identify us.

To me, white equals dingy, dirty, old, boxy. I literally own one white t-shirt, and that's because someone else bought it for me. You get a few good weeks and you start looking like you need to replace them.
I look around at a group of nurses in white and I think nubile, inexperienced. When I look closely, all I see are different shades of off white, white/gray, and white with pen marks and coffee stains. And let's not forget bleach white/yellow. It is a poorly executed slovenly mess overall, and I can't imagine patients feel better taken care of looking at this display. If were going to go backwards, maybe we should go all the way to the original concept of a nurses uniform. Give us changeable aprons for messy procedures, and bibs for lunch. Let's do this right!

The uniform of a nurse: Dress, apron, cap, stockings (support hose), shoes. Skills, knowledge base, moral compass, clinical practice, understanding of ethics, non judgemental attitude, ability to be a part of a team. Nurses of the past were willing to sacrifice their social lives and sense of identity/individuality for their career choice, but modern nurses no longer make that sacrifice; and I don't feel like we should have to. Evolution is a part of life, so we should be moving forward.

Professionalism. We all need to look alike in order to exhibit a professional model for our organization, right? Patients need this, they appreciate it, and complain if they don't see it. Despite my opinions on the white, we do look more professional when we all look alike. I miss my favorite multi-colored scrubs, but some people took advantage of the freedom and I'm sure we have them to thank for the white out that we're in right now.

Easier Identification. Honestly, if you identify yourself appropriately, inform your patient of what you are there for and what the plan is, treat them with respect, and are kempt, patients DO NOT care what you're wearing. Patients begin to pick you apart, then your organization apart when they feel like their care is copromised. No one ever says "my care and experience was excellent, but the nurses uniforms were hideous" Patients who have complained about nursing in regards to professional dress, have mentioned that only within a long list of other things. These complaints usually also involve an emergency situation in which many members of the interdisciplinary team are in the room at once. As we all know, in these situations, we can sometimes forget to state our names, and roles before laying hands on patients in a rush to provide care.
Our clothes shouldn't be identifying us, we should be, ALWAYS, then our badge, then lastly our necessary and functional scrubs/uniforms (which in my opinion should be provided by our institutions).

Our clothes can't make patients happy, but our actions can.