I started my professional life in hospitals. I wore a white uniform, white shoes, and lab coat when necessary. White stockings were becoming history along with caps but a professional appearance was mandatory. It was easy to identify roles within the hospital. When called in at night and clothes had been hurriedly donned, a lab coat was worn over street clothes.
I’ve spent the last few days with a loved one in a hospital. It is interesting that my observations in this hospital, which is a few hours drive from my home, came days after reading of the Ottawa Hospital statement on professional dress. Kudos to them. They are responding to patient and family requests to be able to readily identify healthcare workers.
A glance down the corridor of this other hospital was confusing. One saw a colourful array of personnel, but no hint as to their role. I had to read name tags to see if I was talking to a PSW, RPN, RN, physician, medical records, or dietary staff. I just didn’t know. If I didn’t know, how is a patient to know? I overheard several patients asking the dietary aid for washroom assistance. Housekeeping, on the other hand, was dressed alike, readily identifiable, very professional looking, and also had another essential – a smile.
I saw nurses wearing scrub pants and turtle neck sweaters. Professional? I saw graphic print scrub tops that would have been appropriate on a pediatric floor. Professional? I saw pharmacists consulting patients wearing street clothes, no lab coat. Professional? I saw baggy sweaters and cardigans on top of uniforms. Professional?
Like most things, the healthcare attire pendulum has swung far out and is now starting its swing back to centre as the Ottawa Hospitals guidelines testify. A few of my suggestions:
- Healthcare roles must be readily identifiable. It can be as simple as green for housekeeping, black for dietary, etc.
- Graphic prints should be limited and professional. Good-bye leapin’ frogs.
- Lab coats. Over street clothes they identify a healthcare professional. Over a uniform they provide warmth and cleanliness while maintaining a professional appearance.
- If, when bending over a patient, there is back skin exposed, then a different uniform is needed. A similar skin exposure rule should apply for the neckline of a top.
I am all for comfort when dressing. I also understand the requirement for ease of movement when working in a healthcare setting. Been there, done it. I also see the necessity of a professional looking staff. Haven’t we all read to dress for a telephone interview because our attire affects our attitude? Are we not reassured when we glimpse the pilot in traditional uniform?
These observations are not new to me. They are all part of my Medical/Dental Office Professionalism program. I’ve just had them glaring at me for the past week. When venting this concern yesterday, a healthcare friend who gets it, said to me about her nurse supervisor, “She’s my boss, I shouldn’t know what colour thong she’s wearing.”
I am not advocating a return to stiff, starched uniforms. I am advocating a return to a professional appearance and demeanor.