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.