More hospitals switch to color-coded uniforms

Gunderson Lutheran in LaCrosse, Wisconsin is one of the latest hospitals to implement color-coded uniforms for nursing staff. According to, Registered Nurses at Gunderson will wear white tops with navy blue slacks, while Licensed Practical Nurses will wear Caribbean blue and Medical Assistants will wear grey. The change is expected to benefit patients, who will be able to identify nursing staff at a glance.

Gunderson Lutheran joins a variety of color-coded hospitals nationwide, including the Cleveland Clinic, Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio and South Bay Hospital in Florida. All have switched to color-coded uniforms as a way to differentiate staff. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many patients and family members have troubling recognizing scrubs-wearing nurses as nurses in hospitals filled with scrubs-wearing personnel. Research published in Applied Nursing Research and Nephrology Nursing Journal also suggest that patients and visitors rate white-clad nurses higher on professionalism.

Additional research suggests that nurses’ uniforms may influence nurses’ perception of professionalism as well. A small study of nursing students published on found that poorly fitting uniforms negatively influenced students. One student commented that she, “felt like a cleaner,” while another stated, “if you feel awkward because something doesn’t fit properly…you’re less likely to be assertive.”

What do you think? Does your uniform affect your self-perception? Should more hospitals switch to color-coded care?


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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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26 Responses to More hospitals switch to color-coded uniforms

  1. Ann-Marie

    I believe that nurses should be able to be recognized by someone without their glasses and in an anesthesia fog or morphine haze. Therefore, I believe that nurses should wear white slacks (at least) and certainly NOT look like the staff with a mop, or the pharm tech delivering meds to the floor. I do not care if my position is unpopular and not, but I want to be able to “find the nurse.”
    Ann-Marie Kennedy, RN, BSN, CHPN

  2. Norma R.N.

    I think colored coded is a good idea but the way the $$$$ are short these days they should provide them for the staff because if it’s color a nurse doesn’t have in her/his closet she/he shouldn’t have to go out and buy new uniforms because of this , especially when she/he has plenty of other scrubs in her/his closet so that spending on a new policy just takes food $$ from the baby’s mouth for single and married nurses

  3. Erica

    Color coded – absolutely and for RN white is preferable. I do not wish to be confused with janitorial staff because we are all in multi-colored scrubs. Everything about you should reflect professionalism: from manner of speech to your hair and attire.

  4. shirley bosse

    Although white may look more professional, I cannot imagine how often I would have to change/buy scrubs! I work in a hospital that color codes us. RNs wear dark blue. LPNs, royal blue. CNAs, ceil. I find that our patients are often unsure which of us is their nurse, we are after all wearing the same outfits.

  5. I’m old school…think R.N.s should wear white scrubs. We have lost a lot of respect from the unprofessional appearance of our profession.

  6. Arlene

    I agree with Theresa. I am an RN and was a patient recently. It is very confusing to know who is who in the hospital. This is a long over due change..

  7. Ali Grace

    I have to disagree with the color coded uniform policy..I do agree that it is harder these days to differentiate between some staff especially for the elderly…with new name tags with a very large font of RN, CNA or whatever your title may be, I do believe this has helped…Our professions are so driven by orders that having the autonomy to be able to wear a scrub of my choice is nice and something that I can control. I completely agree that if one looks inappropriate or unkept then as always this becomes a management issue…If colored scrubs are instituted in your facility then in my opinion, they should be paid for, laundered and kept in good condition by the employer. If you tell RN’s to wear blue on the bottom and white on the top, you will probably end up with a rainbow of different shades of blue and shades of white on the top..Keep our autonomy, we are so regulated by so many different organizations already. Our organization has just implemented a “No Jean” policy at work, not even for 1hr committee meetings and or staff meetings…If you are on the clock and getting paid, you must be in dress clothing or scrubs. Guess this is becoming popular in other hospitals too..

  8. Lynn Osborne

    I think ALL nurses, whether they are an RN or an LPN should be back in all white. Then color code the other departments as well. Furthermore, if nurses as well as doctors had to get dressed at work, it would help cut down on the many germs being brought in and spread around. The employers should provide laundering and the uniforms should be kept on the property. Some casinos launder uniforms for certain departments and their uniforms are kept there… not worn out of the place. Their reasoning is it saves on wear and tear but also ensures that those employees will be dressed top notch. Isn’t it funny how places think of that but in the medical field… they do not… even where it would be more beneficial (cutting down the spreading of germs which also cuts medical costs).

  9. Christine

    Many LTC facilities already do this for all the stated reasons.

  10. Morgan

    I do not support the change to color coded uniforms. I think that it is nice to be able to wear scrubs that allow you to express yourself in some way. All of my tops are hand made and I can’t imagine being stuck with 1 set color to wear all the time. There’s nothing wrong with allowing people to enjoy picking out scrubs to wear to work that they like rather than being told what to wear as in nursing school.

  11. Jodi

    All white scrubs are you crazy!! I don’t know where you work, but I have a job that requires getting on my knees to look at things. We work with blood, BM, urine and other messy things and you wanna wear all white? Yikes I wish, since we had to do this, that we had gone to all Navy Blue, since that is the RN color of choice in the US. Of course since the EA’s wear that, that was not an option. I still don’t buy the fact that we are doing this so that the patient can tell us apart, because I always introduce my self and my patients seem to remember me, that is unless they are confused. I have had many family members remark on my tops and when I tell them soon they will be gone, they ask why. So now they will know that we are nurses, but will they be able to tell us all apart???

  12. Our facility made this change just over a year ago and it was difficult at first. Now I wouldn’t know nor want it any other way! This Christmas season we were able to wear “seasonal” scrubs and I chose not to. I think the royal blue scrubs all nurses wear in our facility emanates professionalism. I just think Daffy Duck scrubs on a Cardiac floor, which I work on, is unacceptable!

  13. I agree with Gina…I believe that pediatrics is an appropriate place for cartoon characters but not in the adult setting. A smile on the face of a nurse, a squeeze of the hand and a comforting word of encouragement is better than a daffy duck character on a scrub top. We need to get back to our roots. White is a symbol of purity..cleanliness and infection control. Jodi is right that white shows every stain. If you have blood, bm or urine on your uniform…change your scrubs asap to prevent the spread of infection and look like the professional that you are.

  14. First, there is no reason to wear ill-fitting scrubs. I’ll be up front here and let everyone know that I work at Sassy Scrubs, where all garments are custom made for each customer and we offer FREE alterations! So looking like a slob is just not necessary, or acceptable.

    Furthermore, when my mom was hospitalized, and later rec’d homecare, EVERYONE was a “nurse” to her…RN, LPN, CNA and then Home Health Aide. If they were there to take care of her, she saw that person as a nurse. It would not have mattered one whit what color that caregiver wore, or whether he/she was in solid colors or floral scrubs…she called them all “nurse” and gave everyone the same amount of respect. I’m not saying keeping all levels in the same solid color is not a good idea…I’m just saying that the supposition that it really matters to the patient may be a little overblown. If they need help, they’ll ask whoever is available at the time…not wait until they see someone in Navy Blue or White to ask for assistance. Also, the general public, especially children and the elderly, often do not understand the different levels in nursing, so an RN is often the same as an LPN (or even CNA) to the patient. I’m not sure dressing staff in different colors, without educating the patient by outlining the different functions and responsibilities of each job is really going to help much. And who has time for that?

  15. Jennifer

    pastel green and light blue colors have an effect on patients; they tend to be soothing and healing. There’s a reason why these are the most common color of scrubs. I wouldn’t be able to survive whites. If a facility demands color coded uniforms, they must be willing to provide them. I once worked at a hospital that provided the nurse’s uniform and no uniform left the facility; this also helped for infection control. That was awesome, no expense for the nurse!

  16. Jill C.

    I am all-for the idea of color-coded scrubs not not all-white scrubs. All-white is just not practical as it is too hard to get stain out of white clothes. White scrubs are not at all flattering to larger women (and many nurses are not thin). Navy or royal blue would serve to distinguish nurses and be a more flattering color choice.

  17. Shelly

    Color coding nursing staff is just ridiculous. Most elederly and/or sedated people aren’t going to be able to tell if a person in any color scrubs is a nurse or a janitor. Large tags under your name tag is the way to go. Every employee in the hospital, clinical, or in-home sitting should be made to wear the large print tags.

  18. Becky

    Personally , I believe the hospitals hired pr people to help them better their image with the public, these pr people who have never worn scrubs or medical uniforms dont understand how they do or do not effect patients. The solid color scrubs fade at different times and staff are wearing different shades of tops and bottoms at the same time, it looks tacky. When the staff could wear uniforms of their choice, they had many, and usually always matched, looked clean and took pride in how they looked. the hospitals staff are looking shabby, and bland. If I were in the hospital I would like to be able to determine the personality of the person I am dealing with, it would make me feel more comfortable., and if they care about themselves perhaps they will care about me. Just my 2 cents.

  19. Cindy Breuklander

    I do not feel less professional in different colored scrubs. I think that the only advantage is that it makes it easier for patients and families to determine “rank.” Many of them mistakenly believe that they will be better taken care of if a Registered Nurse completes all of their cares. Education of patients and families may remedy this. Another possible solution is for staff to introduce themselves properly when they enter a patient’s room. If you idetify yourself as “your nurse” the patient and family generally remember you and what your job title is.
    I do however feel less professional in scrubs that fit poorly. Hospital issued scrubs may be a poor solution as different brands of scrubs fit better on different people.
    I have had families stop at the unit secretary and ask to speak with a particular nurse. They couldn’t remember my name, but knew I was wearing green. This immediately distinguished me from the other Registered Nurses on the floor at that time and the family was helped quickly.

  20. Mimi Bowden

    Get out your smelling salts folks! One of the worst ideas that came out of women’s lib and the twisted idea of ‘looking like a maid’ in the 70’s was taking caps away from R.N’s and LPNs. R.N.s wore a stripe on their caps. Patients loved the look, and it was professional and worn with pride. By the way, I have no idea what men would wear to distinguish themselves as R.N.s. Not sure we’d have to get back to white though. Understood re: the scrub colors we already have. Hmmmmmmmmm

  21. Nina Ponder

    Hallelujah! It’s about time! Although white is not “my color,” I’m all for a more professional dress code for nurses. We need to present a more professional image. Today’s scrubs are looking more and more like non-hospital, everyday wear. In comparison, do you have more confidence in a bank president that’s in a suit and tie or one that’s in jeans and a t-shirt. Image is very important!

  22. kws87RN

    I am happy to see that a lot of my fellow RN’s also agree w/me that the sloppy,all color,crazy patterns has gotten out of hand & that RN’s should go back to wearing all 1 color-even gasp,possibly white like I used to wear before going into homecare!! When I mentioned that if I went back to floor nursing again that I would wear my white scrubs-a male nurse made a joke about it & stated he would love to see it!! He made my comments about how we should ALL look professional & cohesive as a group even more stronger!! I love fashion as anyone else but do it on your offtime-by the way Sean-the few male nurses back in the 90’s proudly wore their white uniforms too!!

  23. Kathy

    I do not agree with color coded scrubs for nurses, I think that as adults we should be able to choose what we wear. I do feel that our scrubs should be neat, clean and match.We should be allowed to express our personalities in what we wear just as people in other professions do.

  24. Susan

    I can see both sides to the color coding of uniforms. When I first became a nurse I worked for an acute care rehabilitation hospital; nurses wore white tops and bottoms, respiratory wore green tops and white bottoms, aides wore aqua tops and white bottoms. The company provided the nurses with a scrub jacket that had a pattern on it and this is what they paid for (one). On Fridays we got to “dress down” and wear whatever scrubs we wanted. Most of us loved Fridays. Regardless of the color coding, to many of the patients, unfortunately for us, any female was a nurse (even the female doctors) and any male was a doctor. The one way that I was able to have a little fun and dress up my pure white scrubs was to wear different pins with them depending on the holiday, season, mood, etc. Patient’s loved this too. And just to let everyone know, I did get down on the floor, and cleaned bedpans, got samples, etc., all of the dirty jobs…not once did I need to change my uniform because it became soiled. If you get urine/feces on a colored pair of sscrubs they will need to be changed too. That is a cop out for the people that just don’t want to wear white which I understand. But don’t blame the “dirty job” of nursing for not wanting to wear white. Nurses have worn white for hundreds of years.

  25. Sara

    I don’t mind color coding, they do that where I work. What I hate is that we have to wear all white. It does get dirty and stain and I refuse to buy new scrubs every month.

  26. GJG

    I work in a medical clinic and not a hospital. We have been told that even though we dress professionally now, corporate has mandated that we must all start wearing royal blue – top, pants, and jacket. We will be smurfs! I can understand the reasoning for color coding a little more in a hospital but in a medical clinic where it is evident who is who?! And we received no raise this year, our insurance benefits were cut and the premiums went up, and now we must buy new scrubs!