What would you think if you called the police to respond to your home and the officer showed up wearing a superhero costume? Or, if you went to an attorney's office for the first time to set up your will and the lawyer was wearing a tee shirt? I imagine that in both of these scenarios you'd be bothered by their appearance. And I'm sure most of you would call the police station to talk to the officer's supervisor or walk out of the lawyer's office. Why? Because we expect individuals in various professions to look a certain way.
It's quite possible that the cop in the costume was the best law enforcement officer in your community. And that lawyer in the tee shirt graduated top in her class from Harvard. How about us as nursing professionals? How many times have you seen a colleague in an un-ironed set of scrubs? Do any of your coworkers wear shoes in the hospital that look like they've been worn while doing yard work?
I think it's safe to say that we've all seen some unprofessional work attire on colleagues. Unfortunately, over the past several years, there's been a negative trend in how nursing professionals look in the workplace. Why has this happened, and what does it say about us?
Over the course of my nursing career, I've had the privilege to work at several reputable healthcare organizations. Additionally, I've visited countless other hospitals across the country. In many facilities, it was difficult to discern nurses from environmental services personnel!
I know what some of you may be thinking, “It's not the uniform that makes the nurse, it's what he/she knows and how he/she interacts with the patient.” And to a point, that line of thinking is somewhat true. But looking back at my opening paragraph, when it comes to how we evaluate those we want a service from, we do in fact judge their appearance.
How one looks does indeed help to instill a sense of confidence and trust. Given the nature of our business, I think that goes a long way with helping to make our patients feel safe and secure. I also believe that looking professional as well as acting professional sends a message of confidence that patients pick up. What innocently began as an effort to be unrestrictive has morphed into a mess…a hodgepodge of different colors, prints, and now sweats!
So many people come in and out of a patient's room on any given day; the patient and visitors many times can't distinguish who's who. I've heard of situations in which the patient or family has relayed clinical information to a person wearing scrubs (thinking that they were speaking to a nurse), only to later realize they were talking to a food service aide. This scenario says something about the overall coordination of care, but it also highlights the need to take a critical look at nursing dress code practices.
The good news is that this whole issue seems to be getting more attention. Over the past several months, I've heard and received more and more communication regarding the need to tighten-up hospital dress codes. It's not about taking away a nurse's free expression, it's about patient safety and making a visual statement regarding nursing as a profession. So, I'm challenging you all to take a look at how your peers are dressed and ask yourself if it communicates professionalism. If the answer is “no,” be willing to raise the question and advocate for a change.