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'My uniform feels so unprofessional, like wearing pyjamas'

This weekend, I went to visit my grandmother, a nurse who started training in 1949.

In her hallway, she has a picture of herself as a qualified nurse, in her full uniform. The hat, the cape, the pinny, the whole shebang! In fact, she even gave me the cap that was part of her ‘outdoors’ uniform.

Her uniform was inspected to ensure it met the highest standards of cleanliness and to check that it was neatly pressed, and her shoes had to be polished until they could only be described at gleaming. There’s also a picture of my mother in her student’s uniform, a white dress with yellow epaulettes, her hat in place and her silver buckle shining in the sun.

I look at these pictures, and I feel so envious. These nurses look so smart, so neat and so confident. In my uniform (which consists of bright purple scrubs), I feel I look scruffy and untidy, despite making sure that my uniform is always spotlessly clean and well ironed. Well, at the beginning of a shift anyway!

I’m training in Wales, and due to this, my uniform was chosen as part of the All-Wales uniform scheme. The scheme is a brilliant idea, as across the country you can look at any member of nursing staff and instantly know their role. Staff nurses are in sky blue, Sister’s are in Navy, Nursing Auxiliary’s in bottle green, and us, the students, in quite a violent shade of purple. There are posters across the hospital reminding visitors of the colour scheme. This idea, I believe, is dampened somewhat by the actual uniforms themselves. We wear baggy, unflattering scrubs.

I understand that the point of a uniform is to serve a practical purpose, and as we nurses have very physical jobs, our uniform needs to reflect this. But the unfitted nature of the uniform top means that on members of staff with larger chests, their arms are restricted. The tops aren’t always long enough, and the waist-bands of the trousers aren’t always high enough, and I can leave you to imagine the sight left by that.

And the trousers are often tight in places they need to be loose, and visa versa. So practically speaking, no, these uniforms are not better. That’s without adding in the fact that many members of staff have reported severe skin reactions to the fabric, and have complained that the fabric is also far too thick, and leaves us sweltering hot on already warm wards, which is something I have discovered myself.

However, I can overlook all of this.

My main complaint about the move to ‘scrubs’ is how we look. With all the talk of nursing evolving, and being seen as a profession, why do we look less professional than we did 20/30 years ago? I genuinely feel like I’m wearing my pyjamas when I’m in my uniform. Is that what we want the image of nursing to be? Untidy baggy scrubs? Or a smart, yet practical, alternative? I know which one I would choose.

Sarah Jones is the adult branch student nurse editor for studentnursingtimes.net.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Michelle Parker

    I agree completely, my uniform is worse than that, a white polo shirt; I look more like Bob the Builder than professional nurse.

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  • Sarah, I'm sure you look dashing in your lovely scrubs. I don't have to wear uniform, the only MH settings that require them (those horrific tunics) are elderly MH. I want a coat, hat & a cape!

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  • why are they called scrubs? could be off putting for a start.

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  • Who edits this website content? Poor punctuation. Errant apostrophes!

    well ironed = well-ironed
    Sister's = sisters
    Auxiliary's = auxiliaries

    A small, but important, detail. Much like a nurse's uniform.

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  • I am training in England and thankfully we do not have the scrubs you describe which sound truly awful. However we do have a tunic and trousers uniform rather than the traditional dress and belt that many of us yearn to wear.

    Until recent years nurses wore a distinctive uniform of dress and blue belt that was instantly recognisable. Now many of us are obliged to wear a tunic and trousers outfit which while it may just about be smart lacks the distinctive character of a nurse’s uniform. Unfortunately some staff choose not to even wear the official uniform trousers and end up with all sorts of different styles which can look frankly scruffy. Hair is frequently not tied back properly. The result is that it has become very difficult to distinguish nurses from other staff who are similarly dressed such as therapists and technicians. It is particularly important for elderly people, often with poor sight, to be able to easily distinguish nurses from other staff in a busy and confusing environment.

    My suspicion is that when we hear reports of “nurses” who don’t care or do not give the patient their full attention it may be that the staff involved are not in fact nurses at all. Often patients and visitors may not read name badges and forget introductions. Frankly, to many people any female staff member in a uniform is a “nurse” when in fact they may be a physio, an HCA, a cardiac technician or a cleaner as all the uniforms, sadly, are similar. We really must return to having a distinctive professional nursing uniform so people can easily distinguish a nurse from all the other staff.

    We also frequently hear criticism of so-called “nurses” seen in supermarkets in uniform or behaving in some way unprofessionally. I suspect that many such people are not in fact either qualified or student nurses. The uniform tops worn by social care workers and even cleaners now resemble our uniform, this undermines our professionalism and results in a continuation of the blame culture we are currently suffering. I suggest this is another reason for returning to a distinctive professional nursing uniform that can only be worn by genuine nurses, either registered or students.

    The arguments put forward for the change were that traditional uniform dresses did not allow safe manual handling and that belts were an infection control risk or that buckles could injure patients. Have manual handling injuries decreased as a result of the change in uniforms? No. Have infection rates decreased as a result of nurses not wearing belts? No. Has anyone ever heard of a patient being injured by a nurses’ belt buckle? No. In any case, modern uniform dress designs include pleats that allow full freedom of movement at the shoulders, waist and hips. When worn with a belt dresses are both smart and comfortable whereas without a belt they tend to fit poorly and can look unprofessional. Elasticated belts are comfortable and allow full unrestricted movement but sadly in many parts of the NHS they are no longer provided. Dresses are also much more comfortable to wear during the warm summer months and throughout the year in well heated wards. We trust male colleagues do not feel excluded by these concerns but the fact is 90% of us are female and in any case although the details obviously differ a smart professional appearance is just as important for the men.

    Nurses are the public face of any hospital or other health-care setting, we need to be highly visible in uniform in order to project a positive image. In the words of a recruiting advertisement from some years ago “People Remember Nurses”. In effect, we are the “brand” for the Trust. In this era of concern about clinical standards presenting a smart, instantly recognisable and above all, trusted image is becoming ever-more important. With the current concerns about Hospital Acquired Infections and infection control we need to give our patients confidence by returning to a more traditional, slightly more formal and certainly more trusted professional appearance, while still allowing for cultural preferences. I believe this is all part of enhancing the “Patient Experience” of the care we give.


    We absolutely do not wish to move to wearing scrubs, there is no evidence that this will help infection control, would be very expensive at a time of financial difficulty and above all we would then totally lose our distinctive professional identity in uniform.
    Refer to the Department of Health publication “Uniforms and Workwear, an Evidence Base for Developing Local Policy” which confirms there is no evidence to blame infection control problems on nursing uniforms. We all know that the key to good infection control is hand-washing and having sufficient staff to care properly for our patients.

    With some anonymous new uniforms we are in danger of becoming an invisible profession. We must reclaim our heritage and return to a smart, practical, comfortable yet traditional uniform that gives a sense of pride and belonging and which looks fresh and efficient. Wearing a traditional uniform to work acts as a constant reminder of who we are and what we do. May I suggest that as Student Nurses we take the lead and encourages nurses that to make the choice of wearing a traditional uniform dress is the norm, and also returns to providing belts to ensure a smart, professional and trusted appearance. Part of giving our patients dignity and respect is the self-respect we have in our own professional appearance in uniform, so let’s all insist that uniform is smartly worn, hair properly tied back and those that do choose the tunic and trousers option only wear the officially issued trousers.

    I know this may all sound a bit old-fashioned but I am in fact still (quite) young and very forward thinking in my nursing practice, but this is one area where a return to tradition could pay huge benefits. I realise that with money short any change would have to be gradual but should be possible within existing uniform budgets as new staff are appointed or current staff replace worn uniforms.

    Mel Parsons.

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  • Whilst it is true that a monkey in silk is still a monkey, it is also true that looking the part helps to act the part. Personally, I think that all nurses, in all hospitals, should wear scrubs, professionally laundered and supplied fresh daily. This cuts down on infection risk, for a start. I also read recently of a trust issuing different coloured ID lanyards, printed with the person's designation. This would avoid patient confusion. By all means, have a smart outside uniform, but in hospital, the patient comes first, so we should do all we can to eliminate cross infection risk.

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  • uniforms can be purchased onlline from nurses' uniform websites in France or Germany which are far more modern, stylish and professional looking than any of the frumpish ones seen everywhere in UK. even their scrubs are better cut.

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  • The NHS Wales nurses uniforms are indeed very uncomfortable. Putting Staff Nurses in smurf.....oops sky blue pyjamas was a big mistake! Totally impractical shade of colour. The HCA's wear green.......as do the NHS Ambulance Trust personnel. The AM who 'dragooned' in this shambolic 'uniform', on the basis of 'so you can see who is in charge'... shall remain nameless.
    I'm all for us Nurses looking like professional Nurses. I think the public would appreciate it too!

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