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May 16

Registered Nurses: There goes one now!

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My Graduation Photo: FHH 1981

What a week! You know, I am on a short hiatus from work at the moment, and I could get used to this! I used this gift of time to plan little road trips to see nurses all over south, central, and some northern parts of Alberta to celebrate Nurses’ Week. I was able to get to nursing events in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer and Grande Prairie…and honestly, my sides still hurt from laughing. You know something? Nurses really do know how to have fun! One more thing: to all you fellow 1981 grads out there–congratulations on 30 years in this wonderful profession!

Seriously though, one of the things that struck me was how nurses at each event talked about how essential it was for nurses to be visible in their places of work. For many of them, their Nurses’ Week celebrations entailed donning the white uniform and cap for work. It was delightful to see the pride with which these nurses “wore their whites”, and striking to see the reaction from clients at events in facilities. Many talked about how nice it was to “see” their registered nurses looking so professional, and how much easier it was for visitors and family to be able to pick out the registered nurses from the other staff. It is not always easy to spot a pin or a nametag from a distance, but a white uniform really stands out. You know, I think there’s something in this. Now, I have had this conversation with other nurses, and I think it’s safe to say that there are a couple of “camps”: those who reject the virginal, religious symbolism of the white uniform and are pleased we have discarded this outdated tradition, and those who think that a clean white uniform looks professional, and serves as a clear identifier of the RN.  (And OK, there is another camp, but almost everyone is in it: the nursing cap as a bacteria-infested, scalp-destroying accessory that was ALWAYS getting in the way!) So, minus the broad agreement on ditching the head gear, are the other two camps really mutually exclusive? Is there a common ground in the notion of a consistent, identifiable color for RN’s in work environments where uniforms are worn? Now, I’ll admit I’m a little biased towards the white camp (maybe because of my age and traditions), but what about another color? Are we pleased with the “green scrubs” look? (Another bias alert: I think that although scrubs may be a practical choice, they too often just look sloppy to me). I know, it sounds like such a trivial thing when we are dealing with life and death, insane workloads, health system transformation—and I know that many nurses in many settings do not wear uniforms…but many of us do. Is there any merit in a consistent, publicly identifiable color that signifies: there goes an RN?  I wonder…

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