A Dress Code for Nurses: How Important is it Really?

How important is dress code for nurses and student nurses in hospitals? Many people feel that nurses, doctors and other front-line staff who come into contact with patients on a daily basis to deliver medical care should be wearing a recognizable dress code. In fact, there’s an ongoing debate on the topic, and many surveys have been answered which indicate that there are divided opinions on a set dress code for nurses, with people speaking both for and against it. If you’re a nurse or a student nurse who’s wondering why what you wear to work is so important, take a look at some of these important factors regarding dress code for nurses in hospitals.

#1. The History of Nurse Dress Codes:

For decades, nurses have worn uniforms to help differentiate them from other hospital staff, while promoting their image as professionals. Only four decades ago, the nurse’s uniform consisted of a white dress and hose, and graduate nurses wore a cap from the school which they graduated from. Over the years, the standards for dress in general have begun to change, and this has also had an impact on the nurse’s uniform. Dress standards for nurses have begun to include pantsuits, scrubs, tee-shirts and even jeans, which has led to some debate as to what is and isn’t acceptable for professional nurses to wear.

#2. The Importance of Nursing Uniform:

When it comes to what nurses wear, the uniform has many more uses in addition to what the nurse looks like and the impression that she or he makes on their patients. One of the most important aspects of the nursing uniform is hygiene. Nurses need to be able to quickly recognize any contaminable fluids and other materials that could have transferred onto their clothing and pose a risk to other patients. For many nurses and other health professionals, this is the main reason why the scrub set is a top choice; they are usually made from materials that make dangerous fluids easy to recognize and can quickly be changed to a clean set whenever needed. However, the downside to scrub sets is that today, there are so many different options available. Nurses can choose from an endless selection of different colors, patterns, and even embroidery to suit their own personal fashion tastes. But this can then create confusion for patients, who cannot quickly and easily identify nurses and differentiate between nurses and other healthcare professionals.

#3. First Impressions Count:

First impressions are able to transmit very powerful messages, even though most people would agree that it’s better to base your opinions on what you know about somebody as a person, rather than simply what they look like. But that being said, it’s impossible for most people to stop themselves from forming an opinion of somebody based on their first meeting, which is usually based solely on the person’s appearance. Even if the first impression is found to be completely wrong in the future, you can’t get away from the fact that your appearance is usually the basis on which others will form their impression and appearance of you. In the hospital setting, a nurse who is well-dressed, neatly-scrubbed, and put together gives the appearance of strength, confidence and reliability, which is important for patients who may be feeling worried or scared. When a nurse interacts with his or her patients for the first time, the first impression should be positive, communicating that the nurse is a person who respects themselves and their position.

#4. Looks Are Important for Hygiene:

What a nurse wears and how she or he looks to patients is important for making good first impressions and instilling trust and confidence. As mentioned earlier, it’s also hugely important in terms of hygiene and infection control. In the United States, a scrub set is recommended for nurses because it is easy to keep clean and identify bodily fluids and contaminants on their person quickly. In addition, scrubs tend to be relatively cheap to replace and often come with large pockets, providing busy nurses easy accessibility to the tools that they need.

#5. A Standard Dress Code Prevents Confusion:

At present, there is some debate as to whether or not nurses should stick to a standard scrub uniform; when patients see doctors and nurses walking around a hospital all wearing different scrub sets or parts of scrub sets, it can make it difficult for them to differentiate between the different health care professionals. Nurses must work directly with patients, responding to nurse calls and often taking responsibility for complete patient care. As a result, a simpler and more standard dress code for nurses could reduce confusion amongst patients; it will make it easier for them to identify nurses quickly amongst other members of staff. This could be something as simple as asking all nurses to wear the same color of scrubs.

#6. It Improves Patient Satisfaction:

While studying for your masters in science nursing education, you’ll have certainly covered all the different aspects of how patient satisfaction impacts healthcare as a whole. Research suggests that patients who are actively involved in their own care and able to easily communicate with their healthcare providers will have a safer and more satisfactory experience, which is a goal that every healthcare professional wants. Since uniform dress codes help both the patient and their family with staff identification, it helps to instill confidence that they are being treated by a professional, organized team rather than wondering what each healthcare professional is doing; are they a nurse, doctor, physiotherapist, surgeon, or the cleaner?

#7. It’s Safer:

There’s no denying that sticking to a standard dress code can also be a safer option for both nurses and their patients. Don’t forget that the nursing uniform does not just include the scrubs, but also other aspects of the nurse’s dress such as their shoes. Some hospitals will require their nurses to wear white nursing shoes in order to prevent tripping or loss of balance, while others will allow nurses to wear shoes of their choosing as long as they are sensible, cover the whole foot, and do not pose a trip hazard. Giving nurses a standard dress code to adhere to means that employers can take more control over nurse safety and provide them with choices that are designed with their best interest in mind.

#8. What Today’s Nurses Can Do:

As a nurse, there are several things that you can do to encourage adhering to a stricter dress code in your place of work to make it easier for patients to recognize nurses as their caregivers, and create more confidence for patients from the moment that they come through the door. Even if your place of work is not yet ready to implement a professional dress code for nurses and is willing to allow nurses to continue choosing what they’d like to wear, it’s worth getting together with colleagues to come up with something that you can all do collectively concerning uniform to help improve the patient experience as a whole.

Any good nurse will tell you that their main goal is to improve the patient experience, and when it comes to a nurse dress code, this can also make the job easier for healthcare professionals since they will not be pulled by patients as often who may be mistaking them for a nurse. One simple thing that you can do together with your colleagues is to endeavor to wear the same color scrubs; the more nurses that you can get involved, the better. Maybe you can’t get every nurse at your workplace in the habit of wearing only white, blue, green or pink – but when others see what you’re doing and the improvement that it’s making, they may follow suit. It’s best to choose a color of scrubs that is not currently worn by any other health professional at your workplace to make it as easy as possible for patients to determine who their nurses are.

#9. What Does the Future Hold?

When it comes to the future of a nursing dress code, it’s likely that at some point, nurses will be required to adhere to a standard uniform. This is unlikely to be extremely strict and will probably allow nurses to still have some control over what they wear but be restricted to one or two different scrub set colors, for example. This is already a standard practice for nurses in other areas of the world, for example in the UK, where it is customary for nurses to wear blue scrubs in almost any healthcare setting. In fact, many healthcare providers in the U.S. have already taken their nurses back to basics by asking them to wear white scrubs. Student nurses will often wear a different color of scrubs showing the logo of their school, so that they can be differentiated from the fully-trained nurses by both patients and other healthcare staff.

What’s your stance on a standard nurse dress code? Do you agree, or do you think the amount of freedom nurses have with their uniform is just right? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.