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What not to wear – dressing for your mental health placement

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Presenting yourself appropriately can make all the difference on your mental health placement

After adult placements, the freedom of not wearing a uniform can seem very appealing. But sometimes it can feel daunting too.

Most mental health wards and units have a ‘No uniform’ policy but this does not mean you can wear just anything.

It is important to think about what you wear as you may be nursing patients who have illnesses that make it hard for them to see the world as others do. When well they may be aware of what is appropriate but their illness can cloud their judgement. You do not need to be scared but you do need to be aware.

So, it’s your first day on a mental health ward. You’ve rung and asked about uniform and they’ve said “smart-casual”. Not very helpful.

Let us help you, when you’re going “smart-casual” it’s a good idea to:

  • Avoid jewellery. As in general nursing, infection control is big news so “Bare-below-the-elbow” still applies. Necklaces and dangly earrings can also be dangerous.
  • Wear shoes built for comfort. You are likely to spend much of your shift on your feet.
  • Keep yourself covered. If you think you might be wearing something too revealing then you probably are.
  • Present yourself as a professional. Don’t wear anything ripped – even designer rips! – or anything with slogans. Some wards allow jeans but check first.
  • Look tidy and ready to work. If you look scruffy you will give the impression you don’t care about the placement.

Michelle Wright, nurse mentor at North Manchester General Hospital has seen many an inappropriately dressed student. “The worst experience I had of students dressing inappropriately was when a student came in looking like she’d come straight to placement after a night out,” she said. “She had on a puffball skirt, skimpy top and heels. We had to ask her to go home and get changed.”

There is no reason why you can’t dress in your own style on placement. As long as you keep in mind that certain outfits are inappropriate and remember the reasons why, you can’t go far wrong.

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