Nurse Uniforms: A Quaint Issue or New Trend?

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Nurse uniforms designed by Pierre Cardin

I have always believed that appearance matters.  It may sound shallow but it’s the TRUTH… people DO judge a book by its cover.  It is ingrained in our human essence to trust based on a first impression.  It’s no different when we seek healthcare - a first impression is extremely important to our experience as a patient. 

Could you imagine that as you are being escorted to your room – knowing you will be there for a few nights- you see trash in the corner, overflowing from the cans, a sticky surface on your bedside table, a call-bell that does not work, and stains on the bathroom sink.  It’s bad enough that in many area hospitals, you would have a roommate – whose cleanliness and privacy may be enough to send you home early.  It would be nice to be able to say that when you’re truly sick, the appearance of a room does not matter, but that is just false!

Hospital floors should look clean, countertops wiped, odors eliminated and direct patient care providers to be neat and professional in their dress.  Nurses know what a patient room looks like after a patient is discharged and the time it takes a housekeeper to prepare the room for the next patient.  If this one crucial step does not happen fully, the result is that a patient loses trust in the facility’s ability to provide safe care. 

In our homes, we ultimately have the same expectations of cleanliness.  When friends and family come to visit -we clean up, some more than others!  Clearing paperwork from the kitchen table, hanging up clothes, pushing the baby toys to the corner to create a path to walk, spraying air freshener, and throwing on a bra (or a sweatshirt… admit it, we all do this!) are some common last minute changes we (I) commonly do to make our homes presentable.  The appearance of our homes is often believed to reflect us as a homeowner.  We strive to look “like we have our act together,” a goal that hospital administrators also follow. 

Housekeepers prepare a patient room to be presentable and meet infection control regulations but as direct patient care providers, we also need to be mindful of our appearance and its effect of patient trust.  My colleagues all come to work looking very professional in their scrubs of choice, but we don’t match.  Nurses, registration staff, nursing aides, transporters, doctors, cardiology techs, and respiratory staff all blend together.  Patients simply don’t know who is at their bedside.  In addition, when patients are surveyed, patients tend to categorize everyone they see as a nurse and make complaints such as “the nurses were all standing around,” “I ran my call bell and nurses walked past my room” and so on.  The truth could be that the people “standing around” or ignoring a patient bell were not nurses but rather auxiliary staff members who are not appropriate to be at the patient bedside.

Nursing Spectrum reported in May 2011, that Chester County Hospital in West Chester, PA implemented a new dress code for the nursing and respiratory staff.  RNs and LPNs wear navy, techs and aides wear gray, transporters will wear brown, and respiratory staff wears light blue and unit coordinators will wear khaki.  

So I ask the question, does a uniform policy effectively help patients identify staff members and convey trust?  Chester County Hospital staff… I would love your feedback.  Are introductions and better communication all that is needed?  Are strict dress codes becoming more common?  Should a military style haircut or braided pony-tails be mandatory?  Are long fingernails, heavy perfume, multiple necklaces and dangling charm bracelets overlooked? 

POST your thoughts and experiences!