Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Dressing Down of Nursing

After a stay in the hospital , my mother complained that she could not tell who was a nurse and who wasn't because everyone she saw had on scrubs. Gone were the white uniforms, the white nurses' caps unique to each school-

I was thinking about this the other day after seeing a young nurse who from a distance looked like a real belle, a Scarlett O'Hara re-born.  Until I saw her left arm, which was tattooed from wrist to elbow. Our dress code forbids "visible" tattooes, but scrubs do not have long sleeves.  I know I sound like a curmudgeon complaining about the customs of the young, but appearance was once one of the most important qualities of a nurse. Neatness, cleanliness, poise implied competence and caring and discipline. There was no place for talon nails, tight scrub pants, cleavage, hoop earrings. There is no place for them now, which is why hospitals fight back with two page dress codes.

Scrubs, which look slovenly even when new, are the universal nurse garb today. Some are all one color, some are busy, with little dancing hippopotami or flowers all over. Even white shoes are optional, but running shoes are the norm.

This past summer I wore white scrub dresses for a while until ink and other stains disfigured them. Not a shift went by without someone remarking that I looked " old school" or like a "real nurse". Now I wear green scrubs again and hope that my patients know I am a nurse because I act like one.

I am not nostalgic for nurses' caps. They were cumbersome and frequently out of place. In today's hospitals they would be just another place for MRSA and VRE or any of the other viral horrors to hatch.  And white uniforms are not practical since they are not white for long.

I am nostalgic for a time when nurses did not have their fingers glued to I-Pods. I miss the old style head nurses who knew everything that was going on in their units.  The days when a nurse was allowed to call her patient's doctor without asking a supervisor for permission and without using a script like the SBAR.

Nurses once had time to give their patients back rubs. It was an evening expectation  at my first job. Now the only back rubs being given are by nurses to each other, in between bar coding every medicine and filling in the endless blanks on paper or computer.  Now every nurse has two patients in every bed- the real flesh and blood patient and his doppelganger, the "documentation". I will let you guess which one demands the most attention.


Out on the prairie said...

There is a nurse in hat and whites at a ortho office I go to.some of the school hats were unusual.

Terri said...

My mother was an RN for 40 odd years and the first 10 or so she wore the white uniforms and caps, white shoes and stockings. In winter she wore the blue wool cape. I remember how she smelled too, a clean crisp scent that was unique to nurses. She too eschewed the long nails, polish, makeup or even too red a lipstick and kept her hair fairly short, neatly curled.

After she went to work at the Health Department she still adhered to a uniform. Navy for winter, blue and white striped seersucker for summer months.

There was never any guessing if you were speaking to a nurse, housekeeper, OR tech or ER clerk!

betsy said...

I have been a nurse for forty years just as your mother was, and I would bet the decline in standards saddened her as much as it has me. And it has not just been the dressing down, it has been the dumbing down-