Everyone knows that scrubs are the official “uniform” of nurses. But many healthcare organizations also have their own rules about who gets to wear which hue. These color-coding standards vary from hospital to hospital. Some employers have more than half a dozen different colors in their coding system.
Fortunately, most of the typically assigned shades are readily available. For example, ceil blue unisex tops and drawstring pants are a very common choice for hospital dress codes. Navy, white, burgundy and black are other typical options that you’ll never have trouble finding in stock.
Why the Code?
The goal of color coding is simple. It offers a sort of visual shorthand that lets you differentiate one specialty or department from another. On the surface, it seems like this would make it easier to figure out who’s supposed to be doing what.
However, this strategy doesn’t always work as planned. In the experience of nurses like Brenda Britt, color rules are restrictive and pointless: “Navy blue for nurses and green for nurses’ aides…it’s ugly! Everybody else gets to wear whatever colors they want. The patients still don’t know who the nurses are.” Kim Ostrander asks this question: “Do the patients know what the colors mean? Does the rest of your own hospital staff know the color code?” Too often, the answer seems to be no.
However, color coding can serve a useful function if everyone makes an effort to communicate effectively. Angel Kirkbride finds that adhering to the dress code at her hospital is actually helpful: “I think it’s important to stand out. Before, patients were confusing PCAs and nurses. Now, we inform them from the get-go that RNs wear navy and blue…and I don’t have to worry about deciding what to wear!” A bright blue top can be particularly eye-catching and feminine when it includes details like piped princess seams to show off curves.
Why Nurses Like Having Assigned Colors
As Kirkbride mentioned, taking the guesswork out of choosing daily work attire is one thing that many nurses like about dress codes that specify scrub colors. Nicole Bonney had this to say: “Solid colors make getting dressed so simple. Black is our color of choice—we got to take a poll!” The slimming effect of black scrubs is accentuated with features like back elastic that can give a square-neck top additional shaping at the waist.
Limiting choices can also make it less expensive to maintain a wardrobe. Amber Ammann likes the fact that her employer doesn’t have a dress code, but does point out that this freedom has a downside: “It is very expensive buying enough scrubs so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing the same clothes all the time.”
Some nurses are lucky to work for employers who supply and launder their employees’ scrubs—something that’s only possible if colors are standardized. Cindy Blanco Pacheco is fine with this approach: “I don’t care what I wear, so long as I don’t have to take all the germs home with me.”
Why Nurses Hate Color-Coded Scrubs
For every nurse who likes wearing only one color, there appear to be two more nurses who can’t stand it. Some object to the specific color they have to wear. Nurse Terry Farley complains, “Navy fades something AWFUL and no two pieces match each other!” Farley believes a switch to strict color coding from a more relaxed dress code can negatively affect morale as well.
Most individuals who work in facilities that allow staff to wear a wide variety of scrubs don’t see the point in color coding. Josie Hufhand echoes the opinion of many nurses with the following sentiment: “We get to wear whatever we want. I guess showing up for work is more important than what color you are wearing.” With nursing professionals in high demand and short supply, Hufhand definitely has a point!
If your employer enforces a color code for scrubs, what do you do to personalize your uniform? Do you accessorize with a vibrant undershirt to show a little pop of contrasting color in the V-neck of your scrubs? Or do you kick it up a notch by sporting a fashionable zebra print clog?