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'Ward sisters are the lynchpins that hold wards together'

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“It’s so bizarre how differently one is treated in a Sisters uniform…” @lopo485

Our news editor Steve Ford sent me this lovely tweet last week.

The comment from @lopo485 got me thinking about the value we place on uniform and how important it is to patients and other staff.

Many years ago, when I was a ward sister, I decided to stop wearing my sister’s uniform and dress in white like the other registered nurses.

During this time I gained a real insight into the power of uniform - and particularly that of the sister. I suddenly had to spend more time explaining who I was. I realised how much harder it was for my team to get things done. Staff, ranging from porters to consultants, frequently apologised - “sorry I didn’t realise you were the sister”.

But my experiment stopped late one Friday afternoon. I was sitting with an elderly patient who used to be a nurse and she asked me why I didn’t wear my sister’s cape. I explained that I felt uniform created artificial barriers and hierarchy between the team and described my experiences.

She sat there for a while and said: “But isn’t that the point? People look for you - and up to you, and your uniform is something to be proud of. You’ve earned it and the respect that goes with it. It gives you the authority to get things done and people need to know who you are.”

She was of course right. Ward sisters are the lynchpins who hold their wards together, and they need to be visible and accessible. Last week Sir John Tooke, head of University College London’s medical school, suggested nurses lack adequate role models, and championed the ward sister “as a very strong representative of the caring profession”.

My experiment taught me that all staff should be respected and their views listened to regardless of the colour of their uniform. However, health professionals have to work as a team - and all teams need a leader. On busy wards, a distinctive uniform enables patients, visitors and staff alike to recognise that leader immediately.

As lopo485 says: “people seem to notice me more, everyone wants to speak to me! Random [people] shout good morning sister! It’s lovely really!”

I couldn’t agree more - it is lovely, but it’s also an important statement: “I’m leading this team and you can come to me for support.”

  • Comments (4)

Readers' comments (4)

  • Anonymous

    The ward manager (or sister) should indeed be the lynchpin that holds the ward together, but unfortunately they seem to spend their time at meetings, in the office or doing management duties that don't have much to do with their ward. It is not what it should be anymore.

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  • Anonymous

    Well seeing as the military hierarchy system is well and truly embedded in hospitals then we ought to use uniforms to enforce this. I agree that clear leadership is essential in this environment. In a non hierarchicial system the signalling of status through what one wears would not be needed.
    Of course, in the military system, there are enough soldiers within each regiment, whereas this is clearly not the case in the NHS. Nurses are forced to work in a system that needs optimum workers when they are only provided with the absolute minimum.

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  • Anonymous

    Personally I like to wear the uniform and agree that we need to be visible etc but I do hate to be called sister and cannot believe in this day and age we hang onto such a sexist title.

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  • Anonymous

    Another article about something we already know-Doh!

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