Let’s be honest, nurses need hats like giraffes need driving gloves.
At worst they are an irrelevant piece of head trivia that turn nurses into ornaments and on some occasions (in those hospitals that demanded absurdly tall architectural headwear to distinguish their staff from the rest of humanity) they have prevented nurses from passing under low bridges. At best they are a symbol of something alluding to pride and social distinction - like a priest’s collar or a rock star’s sunglasses.
I can only imagine that hats retain for some people a resonance or retro-irony of some value, or that the fashion student responsbile for them is both patronising and colour blind, and is a bit jealous of people who are doing something useful with their lives.
‘While the requirements of the job demand that student nurses look to the future, the profession itself demands that instead they cling to the past’
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of the recreational hat - who doesn’t like to accessorise? But a uniform needs to be functional and, unless the hat can turn into something useful in an emergency like a crash trolley or a submarine, it is a waste of material. And time.
But of course it doesn’t matter. It’s just a hat and no doubt some people like them, not least nurse milliners.
But it is useful I think to ask what we as a profession do to our students when we integrate them into nursing. Mostly we like to think we do good things don’t we? We like to think we teach them skills and knowledge and professionalism and responsibility. That we accompany them as they sculpt the human qualities that attracted them to nursing - a desire to help, a need to construct a meaningful working life - into something that will resonate into the hundreds of lives they have not yet encountered.
And we know that we teach them the “rules”: what the role is and what we can and can’t do, and what is OK to say and what isn’t. (“Don’t call the consultant with the hairpiece ‘carpet head’!”)
So what are we doing when we put a hat on them and tell them about the 19th century? Are we helping them to recognise the grand traditions they are joining? Are we asking them to embrace the same selfless principles that founded the great activity that is nursing? Or are we asking them to walk around with serviettes on their head in order to remind them not to stand too tall? That while the requirements of the job demand they look to the future, the profession itself demands that instead they cling to the past?
I think the student experience is hard enough, without us attaching anachronistic symbols to their foreheads. Given the responsibilities of student nurses these days, surely the second thing that we should be giving them - after the priority of ensuring they get the education and experience they need to become brilliant - is help and support. Whatever symbols nursing has should be liberating not stigmatising, particularly when applied to students.