By Lindsay Clarke BN RN
This question, once upon a time, was not necessary. Registered Nurses were easily identifiable by their long dresses, white aprons and of course, their hats. Only over the past 30 years have RNs started blending in with the other staff that work in various hospitals and clinics. Once easily identifiable but now, hard to differentiate between a unit clerk or housekeeper.
But why white? Many believe that wearing white goes back as far as Florence Nightingale but this isn’t entirely true. Yes, Florence was the first to institute proper Nursing uniforms, as a means to differentiate between trained and untrained nurses, but their uniforms were more a light blue and were fashioned closely to a nuns habit. It wasn’t until the 1st World War, when nurses became more involved in the front lines. That they realized that they needed lighter, easier to work with uniforms. This still involved a long dress, but also the start of the white apron, hat and a cape. In the 1950s and 1960s, the dresses began to shorten and here is where the primarily white dress came into play. It is believed that the white was not instituted as an identifier so to speak, but more to show patient’s that the nurse is “clean”, “sanitary” and/or “sterile”. It was in the 1980’s that nurse’s started moving toward wearing scrubs, and who can blame us? They’re comfortable and durable and much easier to do CPR on a person when you don’t have to worry about your dress coming up.
The problem is, that Registered Nurse identities became lost in the fabrics and cartoons of today’s scrubs; so why not start wearing easily identifiable scrubs? Nobody is asking us to go back to skirts and hats, (you can if you’d like but I think hats are a IP & C nightmare).
Some provinces already have. Provinces like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have their Registered Nurses wearing White tops and black bottoms. Nova Scotia ruled their nurses had to wear black and white scrubs and Newfoundland had a vote amongst the members of the RNUNL. The feedback from their patients was positive. People were happy to easily identify who was in their room. The other unions in their provinces, agreed that they would not wear the black and white so that this initiative would continue to help Registered Nurse’s be identified among the public.
Other provinces are starting to jump on the identity bandwagon as well. Some hospitals in Ontario have specific uniforms for their nurses. And other provinces such as Alberta have encouraged their nurse’s to wear white, such as UNA’s “Wear White Wednesdays” initiative. Many nurse’s are concerned about keeping the white clean, but as someone who has worked in a province with black and white scrubs, it’s not any harder than keeping a blue or green top clean. (P.S. Hydrogen Peroxide gets blood out really well). The risks of getting dirty are minimal to looking professional and having patients and families easily identify who their RN is and knowing that an RN is present, especially at a time when they should be.
Nursing is a respectable and honoured profession. The people who do this work should represent their profession by looking and acting like professionals. Wearing White helps with this. It can ease a patient’s mind when an RN walks in the room and they know exactly what their job is. It should also help answer that everlasting question of “are you a nurse?”