Does the Uniform Make the Nurse?


Posted to Nursing, Nursing News, Nursing Specialties

Nova Scotia’s Nurses’ Union has decided that starting next year, all nurses will need to wear a specific uniform — white smocks and black pants. The union’s rationale is that they want patients and their families to be able to figure out at a glance who is a nurse and who is a random support person. Right now everyone from cleaning staff to licensed practical nurses wear scrubs of whatever color they’d like.

Marilla Stephenson, a nurse who comes from a family that is chock-full of nurses, mused about this decision:

Uniforms have gone from long, puffed sleeves 100 years ago to tailored short-sleeved dresses after the Second World War to pantsuits in the 1970s to the scrubs of today. The stiff white hats disappeared in the ’70s.

Some pediatric nurses have voiced opposition to the move. They were the first to move to coloured smocks and pastel scrubs, as long as three decades ago, in an effort to make hospitalization less frightening for young children.

The union has used the comparison of being pulled over by an RCMP member and knowing by the uniform that you are dealing with a member of the federal police force.

This movement may be dressed up in the airs of an identity crisis, but I am hearing there is a bit of a turf war taking place underneath. The blurring of lines among job descriptions for nurses and licensed practical nurses may be clear in the contracts under which the two groups operate on the job, but most patients surely don’t know the difference.

And let’s face it, when a crunch hits in any workplace, most people have the tendency to step up and try to get the job done without being ironclad by boundaries.

It is one thing to encroach on a lower boundary, but a whole different matter if a worker tries to breach an upper boundary.

Nurses know all about that, having been told for decades by doctors about all the things they weren’t allowed to do and knew nothing about.

These days, those kinds of nurses have new names: nurse practitioners. They are an amazingly capable lot who, by the way, know a lot and are permitted to do a lot, too.

Frankly, patients — many of whom would surely be very sick, if they are even conscious — should not have to play any role sorting out caregivers by their uniforms.

If there are boundary issues, it is the responsibility of the hospitals and staff to sort them out.

In the end, as all those ladies with the white hats could tell you, being a good nurse has a lot more to do with what you do than what you wear.