Monday, April 12, 2004
What white? Nurses find uniforms follow fashions
By VICKY KOREN
Halifax Medical Center chief nursing officer Christopher Martorella remembers wearing the traditional white uniform when he began his nursing career in 1985.
Martorella worked at Alachua General Hospital at the time and every nurse in the general unit wore white.
“The only people who were wearing (green) scrubs were intensive care nurses,” said Martorella, 41.
It was only a couple of years later, he said, that scrubs were being worn as nurses uniforms. And even then, it was a slow process.
“At first (we agreed to) let the green scrubs in – for certain departments. Then we (allowed) a pattern on the scrubs,” Martorella said of the process.
Walk into any hospital now and your eyes cant help but notice that the original white uniform and the green scrubs have come a long way.
What once was a bland and institutionalized uniform has come to life. Names like Hawaiian Palm, Moulin De Paris, Asian Paradise and Sunset Glow, arent vacation drinks – theyre choices at the uniform store.
The latest scrubs to hit the market have reached new heights with trendy styles such as low-rise, and flared scrub pants, and patterns ranging from Loony Tunes to elegant Asian motifs.
“They can pick and choose. If we dont have it, they can special order it,” said Mary Saarinen, owner of Uniforms and More in Daytona Beach.
“They are only limited by their imagination or by what they want.”
Scrub patterns that have made their way through hospital halls include Teddy bears, jalepeno peppers, skateboard-riding frogs, flowers, and butterflies. If thats not creative enough, how about Sponge Bob Square Pants or some four-leaf clovers to celebrate your favorite Irish holiday?
Picking out colors and the style of scrub shirt or pants can also provide hours of shopping fun, Saarinen said. There is the V-neck scrub with one or two pockets, the weskit scrub top (a shorter version), the V-neck scrub with snaps and the V-neck mock wrap with ties in the back.
And scrub pants now come in low-rise, draw string, flare, and elastic cargo styles. Or for the really trendy nurse – the zippered stretch Jean scrub pant, made of 99 percent cotton.
“They still look like scrubs, but they are cute. The colors and styles seem to be reflecting whats happening in the fashion world,” Saarinen said. “Now they (uniform manufacturers) are coming up with scrub shirts that have Nehru collars.”
For Martorella, the hospitals chief nursing officer, the idea of having many options is not an option. Most of the time Martorella is wearing a business shirt, pants and a tie. But much of the nursing staff at Halifax has the freedom to pick and choose their scrubs – and thats okay with him.
“Scrubs with different colors and patterns make people feel better, feel happy, in terms of having some changes in their clothing every day,” he said.
Martorella said for him personally, “its not that important to make people look the same. Its more important to make sure they have the competence to care for patients, and provide an environment where people like to come to work.”
This sentiment was echoed in a survey of 900 nurses last year about what they wanted to wear. According to a Columbia News Service story, Karen Buhler-Wilkerson, director of the Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, put it this way: “Nurses dont want to be standardized.”
But has the tide changed so much that patients no longer can identify who is whom? And how about the dignity of nurses? Do they still command the same respect when everyone is wearing scrubs? White may have been boring, but you always knew who the nurse was.
While many nurses continue to enjoy their uniform freedom, some hospitals are starting to pull in the reins – and for a variety of reasons, ranging from security to patient dissatisfaction.
Martorella said two departments at Halifax have moved to a required uniform.
The pediatric (Speediatrics) department is required to wear solid color scrubs in matching primary colors – red, blue, yellow, green, black, or purple. Maternity-obstetrics nurses are required to wear only turquoise-colored scrubs.
“Staff got together and decided upon this, not the hospital. The reason is for security in both of those areas. It gives you another reason to question somebody about whether they belong here,” he said.
Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach, on the other hand – after years of allowing nurses the free spiriting choice to choose their scrubs – has moved to a hospital-wide uniform policy.
“The goal was that employees maintain a professional appearance in keeping with the type of activity and work in which they are engaged,” said Jane Burdick, critical care nursing director.
The new Appearance Policy, as it is named, goes into effect Oct. 1. Each department will be required to wear a uniform that identifies that person with his or her department. A committee composed of administrative and nursing staff made the decision to implement a policy, Burdick said.
The big reason for the change, Burdick said, was that patient surveys indicated that, with the variety of scrubs, they sometimes questioned who “entered the room.”
Nurses uniforms will move to a non-patterned scrub in white, navy, and two other shades of blue. Certified nursing assistants will be required to wear mauve and teal.
Buhler-Wilkerson, who conducted the nurses survey, thinks there may be a middle ground on the uniform codes. She proposes that nurses wear a red RN patch on their sleeves.
At a recent exhibit on nursing uniforms at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in New York, a red RN on a white background served as the symbol for the exhibit. She hopes this becomes a national trend.
“What a powerful symbol,” Buhler-Wilkerson said. “The public will know who you are and your professional colleagues will know, too.”