By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

Nurses and patients aboard U.S.S. Relief, 1921/via Wikipedia

Well, if sheer numbers rule, then the image of nurses in white uniforms has gone the way of the nurse’s cap.

Earlier this week, on AJN’s Facebook page, I asked whether RNs should go back to white uniforms as a professional standard. Within a few hours there were 20 comments; by the next day there were about 200 comments (we had to delete the post with the first 100 or so, since we were unsure about the copyright status of the image used—very sorry if that included your comment!).

Clearly, nurses care about what they wear. Comments ranged from one word (“No,” with multiple exclamation points), to thoughtful reasoning around stains and keeping the uniforms clean, to advocating for an individual’s right to choice (about colors, that is).

There were only a few comments that were pro-white, with arguments that they were more professional than colors and “wild prints” and helped patients identify RNs from other staff more easily.

Here’s a sampling of comments (a few minor typos corrected):

Yes—but no hats.

No—but I do think it makes a lot of sense to be able to clearly identify who is an RN when you are a patient in a hospital. Clear identification is definitely a problem.

I support white uniforms. This is the required color at the Cleveland Clinic. Patients tend to appreciate the crisp, clean look of white. Also, white scrubs may be safer because they can be washed with chlorine-based bleach. Some studies suggest that this simple action decreases the risk of HAI. Some people are arguing that white will show body fluids and soil that we may be exposed to. Seriously? No matter what color you wear, it is NEVER acceptable to wear a contaminated uniform!

White is cold , sterile, institutional and hard to keep clean. A study of people with impaired sensory and cognition indicated that often nurses in all white garb blend into the background and walls and appear as “floating heads.” Who does an all white uniform benefit?

NO!!! We like color, too! Freedom of choice!!

I think so—and the hat, too? When I’m at work, you can’t tell a nurse from environmental services.  I’ve been a patient and I like KNOWING who is the nurse.

My view: whether it’s a white uniform or colored scrubs, we need to be sure patients can recognize who is providing their care. We often claim that we’re “invisible” and aren’t given credit for what we do, yet we make it hard for our patients to recognize that it’s a nurse who is providing their care. Also, if we don’t differentiate among staff, patients may assume that there are more RNs than there really are.

Here’s another issue: some RNs cover their name tags with tape or hide their names, so patients can only identify them as “Mary” or “Steve.” What do you think of that practice?

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