Nursing has long been a female-dominated field, and it has undergone drastic changes in the past 100 years. However, images of those early nursing days (young women in white dresses and hats) have remained, whether as part of society’s tendency toward sexual objectification or by patients who actually remember a time when nurses were portrayed a certain way.
These days, nurses are often indistinguishable from other medical professionals—and researchers have yet to determine whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Almost all care providers wear the same kind of colorful scrubs, which are built around comfort, and there are no differences for men and women. This can be difficult on some patients, since they might have a difficult time determining if they are being approached by a college-educated professional or by a supplementary staff member.
Several studies have been done to look at how nursing attire affects patient perception (and therefore patient care), most notably in the 2006 Journal of Nursing Administration and a 2008 Applied Nursing Research report.
Some of their key findings include:
- Scrubs tend to make nurses appear less professional but more approachable.
- Almost all generations prefer simple white uniforms to indicate nursing staff; this is especially true for elderly patients.
- Pediatric nurses are the exception; on them, colorful uniforms are considered ideal.
For nursing students and new nurses, these findings might not seem conclusive enough to make a wardrobe decision, especially since you may be required to purchase and wear uniforms in keeping with the workplace dress code. You might not have the option of white scrubs, and you may be required to wear bright colors every day of the week.
However, what you can do is realize that your patients are affected by the way you look, regardless of whether you chose the outfit or not. Fun, whimsical scrubs might make you more appealing to younger generations, but older patients might not see you as the professional you really are. Plain scrubs are more likely to earn you respect, even if you’re a CNA on the first day of the job. And across the board, sexually ambiguous attire is best, as it takes an important step away from the early 20th century stereotypes that placed women in a less than professional role.