white-uniformShould nurses wear uniforms? And what about all those cute scrubs out there? Are they professional?

Recently I have had to say good-bye to the cute scrubs of old–I now wear scrubs in the same color and style as the rest of my coworkers. Nurses on other floors can choose a solid color scrub set or all whites. Yes, WHITE! Can’t believe we are back to that, can you?

The upside–the hospital pays for my scrubs. The real downside to uniforms in general? I don’t think there is one (except for this whole white thing)!

I will never forget the first time time I put on a nursing uniform. I was newly accepted to a nursing program and had been through all the rigors of “getting in.” Being accepted had been a huge battle for me, so I was excited to be buying all my school supplies–but getting that uniform was thrilling. Yes, I am a geek of sorts.

But when I removed my nursing school scrubs from the plastic bag they came in, things really did change inside me. Maybe I sound overly sentimental, but honestly, I had tears come to my eyes when I looked in the mirror and saw a potential “nurse” there. I think wearing those scrubs for the 1st time symbolized the beginning of a journey long-awaited journey.

Interestingly enough, just last week I was sitting at the nurses station at work when my manager came to talk to a group of us. She was in very nice business attire and looked very professional. The moment she walked away, a charge nurse said, “I wish she would wear some scrubs like the rest of us–she needs to get down and dirty again.” Another nurse stated, “Yeah, she dresses that way because she makes more money than us.”

I sort of laughed at those comments but it struck me how much the uniform or lack thereof in a clinical setting differentiates who is who. I also wondered at the time who looks “more professional”–my manager in her pretty clothes or us floor nurses in our same-colored scrubs. I’d have to say that my managers wearing business attire has created distance (whether good or bad) between her and her staff. And I wonder if patients get confused about her role when she goes into their room. Do they know she is an actual nurse? Scrubs kind of visually make a nurse, ya know?

I also saw a survey recently stating that patients prefer nurses who wear all white scrubs (I shudder at that visual) and carry a stethoscope over all other choices of nurse attire. They too find it more “professional.” Honestly, I don’t think scrubs emblazoned with rubber-duckies elevate nurses, but that’s just me.

It seems the somber, unadorned nursing uniform really does do something to elevate the profession (and we need all the help we can get). I’ve also noticed that properly attired nurses just act differently. Putting on the uniform does something psychologically not just to the patient but to the nurse. It instills in us a sense of pride–it gives us part of our identity, in my opinion.

It’s also obvious that nurse uniforms enhance safety: Patients know who is caring for them when they see us coming in our pajama-like outfits. This is important in a day and age where babies are stolen right out from under new mother’s noses in the hospital. Uniforms don’t always prevent these occurrences, but they give us one other identifier and make our patients feel safer.

Conversely, I think the practicality of the all-white uniform is nonexistent. I understand that it portrays an image, but in a profession where I am splashed daily with body fluids, I’m hoping the days of the white uniform are numbered. Surely patients would rather not see our stains! Plus the white uniforms I have seen can look really, really dingy even when well-laundered (not to mention the see-through aspect of the fabric).

I am also pretty concerned that in some facilities non-licensed professionals are able to wear the same uniform as the RN. I know many hospitals differentiate by color, which I guess is a good argument for all-white to become the norm. Patients don’t have a cheat-sheet that tells them that “burgundy scrubs are respiratory” or “navy scrubs are worn by LPN’s.” It must be really confusing for them.

Aside from the color debate, I still feel a sense of pride when I wear my uniform. (I avoided the temptation to burn my nursing school uniform and have kept it as a reminder instead.) The nurses uniform clearly benefits everyone and really, I worked hard and earned the right to wear my scrubs!

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Amy Bozeman

Amy is many things: a blogger, a nurse, a wife, a mom, a childbirth educator. She started her journey towards a career in nursing when she got pregnant with her first child. After nursing school and studying "like she has never studied before" she entered the nursing profession eager to get her feet wet. The first years provided her with much exposure to sadness, joy and other complex human emotions. She feels that blogging is a wonderful outlet and a way for nurse bloggers to further build their community. Traditionally, midwives have handed down their skill set from midwife to apprentice midwife. She believes nurses have this same opportunity: to pass from nurse to new nurse the rich traditions of this profession.

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21 Responses to Scrubalicious

  1. Sean Dent

    I agree. I’m all for continuity, but I shudder at the color white. It reminds me of being a nursing student.. as for some reason the white personifies the nursing of long-ago. I too know that patients identify with the color white for nursing uniforms, and I’m willing to accept that. I just can’t believe we are what we wear. I mean, yes, you need to be professional looking, and not just mix-and-match. I think one solid color is much better than the patterns. But, I also think it’s how you carry yourself and introduce yourself. My clothes may present an initial and brief first impression, but everything else is dependent on me -not what I wear.
    Good stuff Prisca!

  2. Pamela

    I work in peds. in the school setting and also in mental health with adolescents. Just this past year, in order to make my life easier, I bought a bunch of scrubs that, miracle upon miracles, fit well. I bought matching pants and tops in solids. It has been a godsend – I am somewhat of a “fashionista” but doing away with the hassle of what to wear is wonderful. NOt only am I comfortable, but I do feel more professional. I am the nurse in the building, not one of the teachers, and let me tell you, almost everyday a teacher will say she wishes that she could wear scrubs. Plus, the kids know who I am, I don’t have to worry about staining or ruining my other clothes, and most of all – I can get to work on time …..


    I work as a Clinical Specialist during the week. I have to dress in business attire. However, when I work on a Med-Surg ward as a contractor on the weekends at another hospital I wear white pants, shoes and labcoat. My scrub top may be solid white or a print with a white background. I have gotten comments from patients and visitors saying” It’s nice to see a REAL NURSE.” Well, I can admit that people do see me as the professional RN….not the CNA or houskeeper. I feel that we Nurses do need to try to look neater and set ourselves apart. Whether we do it in our dress or our attitudes towards our profession.

  4. Deb

    I miss the “nurses of long ago.” I miss the below-the-knee stiff white dresses, and the white stockings with white shoes, and the hat with the little pin on it. You knew instantly THAT was a nurse, not a doctor, or a scrub tech, or a custodian about to mop your floor or empty the trash. You did what those nurses told you to do, and you didn’t mess around.

    No, obviously I’m not a nurse. I’m just remembering when I was a patient, a long, long time ago. Of course, a lot of things were different back then. And if I were a nurse today, I’m sure I’d rather wear scrubs than that old-fashioned getup. And I’d probably rather not wear anything white!

  5. Vicky

    I’ve toyed with the idea of wearing all white but it’s hard to find white scrub pants that won’t reveal what color/style underwear you’re wearing. We can wear practically any color/design as long as they’re scrubs but I think scrubs like Looney Toons, etc., are unprofessional and immature. But that’s me.

  6. Connie

    I wore the whole white outfit when I became a nurse 25 years ago. I loved my hat but alas, it was found to carry “germs”. I will admit it constantly got hung up on the bed curtains but I sure felt like a NURSE when I wore it though!

  7. Tiffany

    This article was totally enjoyable to read, well written and honest. I agree wholehartedly with the underlying message. I graduated from a hospital based program, one which still required its students to wear white scrubs with a pink cross emblazoned on the arm to signify “student”… although the practicality of the white uniform is minimal, and a real pain to keep clean and find “appropriate” underthings to wear with it, the number of patients who complimented me on my starched white uniform and told me how professional I looked even as a student was surprising to me. Now, I continue to wear monochromatic, solid color scrubs on a daily basis. I feel as though it elevates me professionally and gives my patients more confidence in me than in the nurses that wear loud patterns and colors. After all, imagine being in a life or death situation as a patient, and looking up at the person that just might save your life, and seeing cartoon dogs all over their shirt….

  8. cretia

    whereas i understand the rationale of a facility to have COLOR CODED STAFF i do not think this is a good thing. here is what we do know – mood is affected by color. the mood of the staff, the patients, the visitors will be affected by the color worn. in much the same way that the colors walls are painted effect those who are in said room. even a color carefully chosen to create a particular mood or sentiment will NOT always fit the situation at hand. i say have a code related to style but NOT COLOR. leave color to the discretion of the staff member. trust us (the staff) to wear the color we need to do our job.
    by the by … i do sometimes wear all white.

  9. Amanda

    I graduated from nursing school in 1995 and could not wait to wear my all white uniforms! I just think that a white uniform sets apart the RNs on the floor. I worked two different jobs for years. When I was in the OR I dressed in scrubs and if I were working doing IV therapy or home care I wore my white uniforms. Personally I dont think there is anything that looks nicer than white uniforms on a RN. I am now a ARNP wearing dress clothes but in reality prefer the uniform. But besides my personal opinion on color, uniform/scrubs should be clean and wrinkle free and fit appropriately! That is my biggest pet peve is to see someone dressed inappropriate!

  10. Dorothy

    I do love nursing scrubs so much because it just let me do everything I want during my shift. Whites are good too but they are just not to comfortable for me.

    Just like you Prisca, I almost cried when I saw my first uniform then. But after I received my first pay check as a staff nurse, I rushed to order online ( for scrubs.

  11. Katie

    I loved this post…so true about the white scrubs being a classic. I personally like that. I think it is part of the image of being a nurse. On the other hand, I don’t like being worried all day whether or not people can see my underwear. Until I found these:
    Large selection and thick pants! Love them!

  12. I work in a children’s hospital and I have to tell you that I have found that the looney toons and the sponge bob fabrics work well with children. I would agree that in an adult hospital, seeing your nurse walk in wearing Pepe le pew would be a little on the weird side, but when kids are involved, you can really bond with them and earn their trust if you walk in wearing scooby doo. I’ve had to start IV’s on kids and they immediately feel at ease because I was wearing their favorite cartoon character.

  13. Rose

    Loved this article. Our hospital just changed our policy that RNs wear only royal blue scrubs. I love wearing scrubs and always wore them in solid colors, tailored (not baggy or tight), and professional-looking. This basically was a tunic-style top that narrowed somewhat at the waistline, with matching pants to give it a nice clean line. But I loved wearing different colors like navy, forest green, wine, or black. Even all-white (only in nursing school) would’ve been kind of nice. This only-royal-blue thing is logical but feels sadly limited.

  14. flora DeParis

    I work in Psychiatry and white scrubs are a NO-NO. This particularly makes me very happy because I hate color underwear which is the only thing you can wear under white scrubs, unless you want to put it all out there. And it is not pretty…

  15. Resi

    I have to agree with Michelle, that in a pediatric unit, cartoon scrubs are a great way to earn a child’s trust! I did my preceptorship on a pediatric unit (I’m a new graduate) and loved the way cartoon scrubs easily started up a conversation and interaction with a child. Unfortunately, the hospital where I did my preceptorship also began implementing royal blue scrubs for RN’s, just like Rose mentioned, and if I had been an employee I would have been very sad. I’m sure it makes it easier to choose what to wear, but I love wearing fun scrubs. Luckily, I was a student and didn’t have to conform with that regulation (:

  16. Christine

    I think color coded uniforms are a great idea. I’ve always detested the print and random colors some hospitals allow nurses to wear–what, are we in high school? We work hard for 4 years to obtain that BSN–I think it’s high time that we look professional, and white is the most health-conscious color as it can be washed in sodium hypochlorite and thus erradicate pathogens. I think white is a respectable color, and if we want to be taken seriously as professionals, it is imperative to look the part.
    As far as management wearing professional attire, I see nothing wrong with them delineating themselves. Their job is just as important as ours in affecting patient care, and they also have a great administrative responsibility that includes regularly addressing the CFO’s and other higher-ups, as well as appearing professional in front of patients, it is expected for them to be in business attire. Their job is NOT the same as a floor nurse nor should they be expected to dress as such. A good manager will throw on a pair of scrubs and “get down and dirty” when his or her team needs them.

  17. Terrah

    I just like my scrubs big, baggy and usually darker colored. White is just bad luck for me. Anytime I wear white I find myself amidst vomit, feces or my own female crisis. I like prints, they make me feel more comfortable than white. White is honestly more professional for some people but for PEDs and CNAs prints are our friends. :)

  18. Tina

    First off, I love my print and even cartoon character scrub uniforms and have gotten a number of compliments from my patients on my uniform and personality. I worked in a hospital setting that had color coding for the pants you wore only. Nurse (RN and LPN wore navy etc.) the patients had no idea about this dress code. Myself I prefer autonomy with discretion for my clothing preferences and feel that a large NURSE badge is sufficient for identification purposes for the patient.
    My biggest compliant when it comes to scrubs is that I worked hard for the right to wear my scrubs and hate that many places (as mentioned in the article) have non-professional staff wearing scrubs. From dietary to receptionist. Why is this? I feel that this takes away from my professionalism and confuses the patient more then the color of my scrub and I should not be forced to wear a white or any other color scrub so I will not be mistaken for housekeeping. Doctors no longer wear scrubs outside of the surgical area either. They are in professional attire with white lab coats.

  19. Gwen

    Being a professional receptionist (not a non-professional just because I don’t have nurses training as Tina stated above), I do agree that the patients can get confused by having all staff members wear scrubs. I would prefer to wear business attire (even though the scrubs are more comfortable).
    One point to make is that every person in the office is a valid employee and necessary to the practice (yes, even housekeeping). To think yourself more important than others because you have “different” training is purely arrogant.

  20. Lili

    I’ve been a Nurse for 20 years & it is only with this newest job that I have had to purchase WHITE uniforms. (I have every color & print under the sun-EXCEPT white)It’s my luck too-being pregnant with twins-I cant seem to find a white set that will/is accomodating my quickly swelling belly. I am open to any suggestions if any1 knows of a great maternity site that provides comfy white tops! I plan on wearing a dress,after I get back from leave & once my “cankles” have gone away! I always loved wearing (white)dresses (early in my career) & believe it looks very professional!

  21. Greita

    I work as a receptionist at a medical clinici and we all wear scrubs (except for the office manager). We have all been able to choose our own colors, patterns, etc. Now we are all going to the same color scrubs AND we are going to have to buy them! NO RAISE this year but we are going to all have to buy new scrubs – color dictated by the corporate office (which by the way does not wear scrubs). How does this help care for patients? We all receive compliments on our different scrubs but now we’ll all look alike.