HomeCommunity‘Uniformity’ in nursing: It’s about time…again.

‘Uniformity’ in nursing: It’s about time…again.


June’s guest, Donna Cardillo, MA, RN, looks at the trend of consistent uniform colors for nurses.

In case you haven’t heard, there is a national movement underway to have hospital nurses wear a “uniform” scrub color unique to that facility. This will make nurses easy to identify in that facility. And while some nurses are not thrilled with this trend, there are many reasons why we should embrace it.

First let me remind you that there was a time in healthcare when all nurses were easily distinguishable because of white uniforms and caps for women. Those days are long gone and I wouldn’t want to see the return of the cap, a throw back to military days. But in giving up the white uniform and cap, we seem to have gone in the completely opposite direction with an “anything goes” dress/scrubs policy. Oh sure, there are regulations against wearing too casual clothes such as blue jeans, but personal scrub choices encompass prints and colors of all types.  And since almost everyone in the hospital setting wears scrubs these days, it is virtually impossible to know with a quick glance who anyone is.

I’ve been on the “other side of the bedrail,” so to speak, several times in the last several years when close family members were hospitalized. In some of those hospitals nurses all wore the same color scrubs while in others they did not. What a huge difference for me and my family members in those facilities that did have color coded scrubs to be able to immediately know when someone walked into the room whether or not he or she was a nurse. And just in case you’re thinking that you can distinguish yourself in other ways, it simply isn’t so in most cases. Rarely do people introduce themselves in the hospital when entering a patient room (a bad and dangerous habit). Name badges are either covered by lab coats or sweaters, flipped around, or are unreadable from any distance.

Additionally, we worked hard to earn our credential, and it is important to maintain our visibility. After all, we are the primary caregivers in the hospital, are the most trusted of all professionals, and are the reason that patients come to hospitals — to receive skilled nursing care and monitoring. How will anyone ever appreciate, acknowledge, or understand our unique role if we blend into a generic blob with all other providers?

Stand apart and stand proud. Be a beacon of professionalism and comfort in every way — including your appearance. Don’t leave your image, your role, and your identity to chance. Embrace and support “uniform” scrubs for nurses and wear them proudly. And while uniforms alone do not make the professional, they go a long way in helping us to stand out, better allowing us to do what we do best: heal, teach, support, comfort, nurture, and save lives.

Donna Wilk Cardillo is the Career Guru for Nurses and “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. Donna is also an ‘Expert’ Blogger at DoctorOz.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo is creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com.



  1. hard to tell the nurse from the cleaning lady! i feel professionalism starts with appearance, and today i would not trust my life to these so called professionals. i dont want to see their latest ink on their arm, i dont want to hear “oh wrong patient” as they enter my room. it is just another sign of how we have dumbed to all down! return to a white uniform, if the kithcen staff wears white why not a professional!

  2. I disagree with a set color for department. I have worked in many settings and the patients are rarely admitted long enough for this to make a difference. In many cases the client mistake our house keeping, kitchen, CNAs, phlebotomist, NP’s for floor nurses. They all have their own dept colors. This is a complete hit or miss. To say it works broadly across the board would be a gross misrepresentation of what really happens.

    *Yes I know this is an old post but it needed to be said.

  3. I agree with the author. When my hospital initiated the color code concept many were upset about losing identity and retiring their cutie uniforms.Our hospital paid for the first 2 complete uniforms.Nurses could wear navy blue or white, lab techs dark green, physical therapy light blue & etc. We were aloud to choose our colors (within reason) Some patients missed the heart
    scrub for valentines day/bunny scrub for easter.
    I believe we all shine in our distinctive colors.
    We stand apart & proud

  4. This isn’t soviet Russia people, this is the USA and supposedly we celebrated uniqueness and diversity at one point- yet now we just can’t wait to make everyone look the same? Remember that RNs are college graduates and not McDonalds workers who haven’t learned the skill of dressing professionally yet. Wearing scrubs no matter what color will make someone look sloppy because they are scrubs and not very flattering to any body type. It’s not that hard to read “RN” on a name tag either.

  5. So…What do you all think? Will the hospital pay for this uniform that would be required? Should the hospital pay to have them cleaned? And how many a year would we receive? Would they be a tax write off? IRS…are you ready for this? And what happens when blood stains your pants…do you continue to wear them because you have already received your allotment for the year? I believe there are many questions to be answered before something like this ever goes in to effect.

  6. I am very happy to see this conversation. Scrubs are pajamas & to my eye they have always appeared very unprofessional- not something that should be everyday wear for highly trained professionals like nurses. I was recently at Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok and the staff was clearly identifiable by uniform. Desk clerks wore smart grey suits. Nurses in white with hats. Docs with white coats and stethoscope. Maids in black with hats. As a patient it is comforting to know immediately who is who.

  7. Identity, role and image are distintly different concepts, as are respect, autonomy, collboration and professionalism. The author has attempted to blur these concepts in identifying a “trend” in hospitals which is based in autocratic decision making inconsistent with MAGNET recognition. Nursing judgement and decision making is being challenged and limited even in your choice of attire. Wake up people before your patients don’t recognize your knowledge and caring as being paramount.

  8. Just saying, you should tell who you are when you walk in a room.. I get the feeling R.N.’S don’t want to be grouped with L.P.N.’s.. Do you know we can run circles around ya’ll.Just saying, I have heard that from just about all R.N.’s!!!!!!!!!

  9. I am not in favor of the single color option. I understand why some people are.

    I do not understand why people cannot simply walk in the room and clearly introduce themselves. I think it is unprofessional and a bit weird to walk in and start doing something with either equipment or the patient without doing that. Actually. I think it is straight up rude. Professionalism is far more complicated than uniforms. Behaviour is what counts.

  10. I recently visited a facility (as a patient) where all the nurses are “uniformed” in purple scrubs. I found I really did appreciate tht it was easy to identify the nurses. However, as a patient I’ve also enjoyed the diversity of scrubs. Just a thought about a compromise: couldn’t the goal be achieved by mandating a solid color top and any matching (solid or print) pants? (I would suggest the reverse, but if you are standing over my bedside I’m not seeing your pants…..)

  11. I absolutely agree. I have been a nurse in the ER setting over 30 years – and you are absolutely right, nurses do not always identify themselves as they should, and they are not easy to pick out of housekeepers, respiratory techs, lab techs, radiology techs and all the other personnel in a hospital that have adopted scrubs as their uniforms. This is a very needed culture change – to help the patients know who is a care provider, when they need care!!!

  12. I agree with all of these comments. I come from the old school with white uniforms and hats (and I was so proud of that hat!). I do not wish to return to white, either, but for our patients sake, let them know who is the nurse and who is the housekeeper. We are all part of the “team” when we care for patients, but it is nice for them to be able to “know” a nurse when he/she enters the room. As an instructor, it’s even nice for my students to be able to know who they can go to with questions.

  13. I agree with CB. Many older pts need glasses to distinguish the “RN” on our name badges. Color coding is the way to go – distinct solid color scrubs. Pts assume the person taking VS is a nurse. gdog has a point about professionalism but fostering individuality has led to the current anything goes scrubs.

  14. My 84 yr. old mother was recently hospitalized and I stayed with her as she was confused. She was very confused about who was caring for her as the staff all dressed in whatever they chose. As a Nurse, I totally agree uniforms help identify us as to what our function is on the healthcare team!

  15. i think the uniform increases the institutional feel of a place. part of a nurses goal in caring for a client is to establish an individual relationship. Indeed, the heterogeneous nature of nurses and nursing almost demands different uniforms. While nurses should always present a professional and hygienic appearance, uniwear is not the solution we should choose.

  16. I agree! The hospital where I am currently employeed has implemented a “color coding” systme for uniforms. Nurses wear navy blue, patient care techs wear purple, phlebotomisis wear red, etc…When someone walks into a patient’s room, they know if they see navy blue, it is the nurse.

  17. I agree with author. Patients want to know who the RN is taking care of them and we, as RNs, should want everyone to know who we are.

  18. I agree with the writer. Nurses are no longer respected as they were in the past. I think one of the contributing factors is the fact that we just “blend in with the crowd”. When I see a hospital that allows CNAs and nurses to dress alike, I see a hospital that does not take pride in there nursing workforce. And if there is no pride in the workforce, I’m sorry, but there is usually no pride in patient care, or in having needed supplies on hand, or in having clean rooms, etc.


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