What Not to Wear

One reason I love my job is that I literally get to work in pajamas.  Scrubs are perhaps the most utilitarian of all work uniforms:  comfortable, relatively inexpensive and easy to wear.  I would know.  Having worked in a variety of industries, I’ve had the pleasure of wearing multiple uniforms.

The worst:  slacks, shirt & tie.  I wore this as a cargo loadmaster for an international airline.  For me, being hands-on is an important part of the job, so I ruined numerous dress shirts, countless pairs of pant and a couple of ties as I squeezed in between cargo pallets and into the nooks and crannies of a modern cargo plane.  I was finally able to convince the powers above that as I was working nights, there was no need to wear said uniform.  Khakis and polo shirts became the new dress code.

Second worst: white shirt, bow tie and black slacks.  Worn as a server.  What really topped it off was the full body apron, very classy, especially when you spill food stuffs on it.

The normal:  working as janitor I wore whatever I had been wearing that day.  No changing to go to work, just show up.  Shorts and t-shirt?  Just fine.  Sandals?  Sure.

When I loaded planes, it was jeans and shirts.  Then when winter arrived it was full-on rain gear and insulated coveralls.  But none of these can hold a candle to scrubs.  They are, in my mind, the perfect uniform.  But they are a double edged sword.  Just as you can look good in them, you can also look like a slob.  Dirty, wrinkled, strange color combos and prints, it can all add up to something less than professional.  And many folks don’t care about how they look, they just show up saying, “I’m here.” looking like they rolled out of bed.  Any wonder why image is a big problem for nursing.

A problem I have is finding scrubs I like.  Not a huge fan of the pastel colored prints, for obvious reasons.  And there is not a plethora of “manly” scrubs out there.  While I do agree that this is a female-centric industry, there are more men arriving every day.  For some of the chaps, the unisex scrubs fit great, others not so well.  While there are plenty of scrubs just for the gals, there ain’t much for us boys.  Now I’m not saying we need crazy prints, but prints could be a nice addition.  For now we have to sort through the rests to find those we like.  I’m not completely happy with what I’ve found, an am always on the lookout for different styles, but they do the job well.  I’m still looking for the penultimate scrub set that makes me totally happy.  The search will continue

One thing that scares me though is the public perception.  Recently in a survey at our hospital, a large (>50%) portion of patients identified not knowing who the RN was as a problem.  We all look the same:  RNs, CNAs, Techs, Phlebotomists, etc., all rock scrubs.  Granted, we do look the same, or at least similar.  In the solution portion, in a throwback to an earlier time, 28% responded that whites would be the best way to identify nurses.  Whites?!  Are you kidding?  I have a hard enough time keeping my colors clean and whites would be a nightmare.  I wore white as a student, it was only a top and only for a year, but it was not pleasant.  Not to mention that whites further the image of the nurse handmaiden.  We’re professionals, no longer the pillow-fluffers of yore.  Not that I’m saying those that came before were not professionals, far from it, but that image, the nurse in white is seen as that stereotype.  When you look up naughty nurses (not that I’ve done this…) I’m told they wear whites, not scrubs.  Perception.  Requiring nurses to wear whites, brings this back.  What’s next? Hats?  Candy stripers?  A more palatable version might be profession specific colors, but that could get old in a big hurry.  There may not be a solution to this that works for everyone, but I know that the solution is not whites.


  1. What that survey actually tells me is that the patients need to pay more attention to who comes in their room and does stuff. I mean, do they just let anyone come in and poke needles in them, so long as they’re wearing scrubs? That doesn’t seem like a very good idea. I’ve not been in many hospitals, but the ones I have visited were staffed by people wearing name tags, with their designation. Is that not the case at your hospital?

    Nope. No name tags, and we let anyne who wants to stick people come on in. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Yep, name tags and gasp…we introduce ourselves as well. Like I said, it’s a stereotype issue; nurses should be in white…


  2. Point 1 – At my hospital the Nurses have green backgrounds on their tags, the Doctors have maroon, and lab peeps, techs, CNAs and lunch ladies have blue. It seems to work pretty well (and is very nice as an ER Nurse when I take a patient up to the floor and want to give report to the nurse.

    Point 2 – A-friggin-men to the complaint of no scrubs for men.

    Point 3 – In my nursing school we had to wear white pants with a light-blue zipper-top that scrunched up right in the crotch area whenever you say down, making it look like you were very pleased to be there. Don’t get me started on see-through white scrubs. No thank you.

    Point 4 – If my hospital started requiring nurses to wear all-white (or really even part white) I would go work at a different hospital. That’s the power of the nursing shortage.

    Funny, I said the same thing when we were talking about it at work the other night!


  3. I was SO looking forward to wearing “pajamas” to work in my new nursing career, but ironically I ended up deciding to go into psych nursing, where a few years back someone came up with the idea that staff should wear street clothes instead of scrubs in order to eliminate the “staff vs. sick people” perception.

    Meanwhile, patients have the option of wearing their own clothes or wearing hospital-supplied scrubs. They’re not stupid – 90% of them opt for the more comfortable scrubs. As a result, things have simply flip-flopped; the staff wears street clothes and the patients wear scrubs. And I *never* seem to have enough pockets.

    As for differentiating types of staff, that’s easy enough. different-colored badges or even just larger print on the badges would do the trick. Like Braden said, the nursing shortage is in our favor when it comes to anyone trying to institute any goofy ideas about uniforms. I’ll put up with wearing street clothes in order to work in the area I’ve chosen, as long as I get to pick them. The minute anybody starts dictating colors I don’t want to wear or telling me I have to wear a funny hat, I’ll be working somewhere *else*!


  4. http://www.smartscrubs.com

    Not sure how fantastic the “manly” scrubs are, but their brand S.C.R.U.B.S is amazingly comfortable. I don’t even live in the US anymore, but I still order them and have them shipped to my friends’ places and then pick them up when I visit, b/c I love them so much. Try them out -you might become a fan.


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