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Adventures in Sleep

A Sign of the Times: The Way We Dress

Published June 17, 2009 10:21 AM by Amy Reavis
I have been in health care for more than 20 years.  I say this to support the fact that I am old enough to see some significant changes over my professional life.  My question is: Why did we change how we dress?

When I started in respiratory care back in the early 1980s, I had a closet full of conservative business clothing and several starched lab coats with my name and credentials embroidered. I would walk into a room and the patient would ask if I was the doctor. I would explain my job and role and spend some time teaching them proper breathing techniques.  The feeling of pride in my career and what I was doing for my patients was undeniable. 

Then entered scrubs, a color-coded uniform that would tell the world what profession you were in. They were loose, drawstring pants and v-neck tops with one pocket that reminded you of the guys with pocket protectors in high school. You would hope every day when you arrived at work that they had your size or you would have to trudge down to the laundry to ask for your size--which would then be shouted to the entire hospital--and then run back up to the department to change so you would not be late for report. 

This gave way to the money-saving requirement of buying our own.  That at least saved the run to the basement and the changing at the department, but it brought up the issues about germs.  Immediately, the hospital I work at showed us several studies that proved we could not give our families any illness simply from our clothing.  Now, we could purchase scrubs ourselves but would have to stay within the color assigned to our department.  Who knew there were that many different shades of dark blue or burgundy?  We looked like Easter eggs gone amuck.

Eventually, you knew that scrubs would go high fashion. Today, when you walk into our facility you see every print imaginable. You see designer scrubs and you see scrubs from fitted to loose. There are no rules and you cannot tell who does what job by their dress. 

All you know is what each person's favorite color is, who has the loudest taste (my favorites are Hawaiian prints, yellows, and pinks) and who took their scrubs directly from the dryer.

So, did we lose some of our professionalism with this dress code?  Did we lose some of our identity?

Since (generally speaking) the patient calls me nurse even though I introduce myself as her sleep technician for this evening when I walk into a room wearing a scrub top with flowers and geometric shapes all over it, I believe I have lost some of that pride I had when I first came to work and took care of my patients all those years ago.

posted by Amy Reavis


Personally, I was relieved when I had the choice to not wear my lab coat over my scrubs as we had to do while in school.  I sweat quite a bit while running around the hospital and going into those certain patients' rooms in which their heat is blasting or you are working in cramped spaces in which your lab coat might snag on a corner of the bed.  Im constantly pulling patients up in bed and repositioning them, and we all know how much effort performing manual CPT takes!  To not be encumbered by an extra layer of clothing, that for me only adds to how much I sweat, is liberating, and I haven't even mentioned how well they wash up and are less pricey to replace!  Also, in those most frigid months in the winter in which I am compelled to wear an extra layer, nothing feels better than a lightweight, long-sleeved henley underneath my scrub top.  It sits closer to my skin and still wicks away moisture when I'm doing rounds.  I have no less pride in my position as a Respiratory Therapist just because I don't wear a lab coat.  After all, my true satisfaction comes not in how a patient responds to my garb, but in knowing that I give my all every time I show up to work.  By the way, I love to wear only solid colors, no prints.  

Gabrielle, Respiratory Therapy - CRT, Agency Staff June 19, 2009 5:42 PM
Nashville TN

Last February, the hospital where I work instituted a dress code, RN's have to wear navy blue scrubs, PCT's wear burgundy, RT's wear Carribbean Blue, Lab's wear Gray, etc.  Each department was allowed to pick a specific solid color and may wear only that color.  Although there was tremendous resistance to this policy at first, the hospital has achieved a much more professional look and attitude among the employees.  The hospital also placed a chart in each patient room which identifies each department by their specific color.  This has led to increased patient awareness of the individual departments and their specific duties.   I feel that it is possible to both wear scrubs and maintain a professional attitude.

Leslie, Pulmonary Lab - Pulmonary Function Therapist, Barnes Jewish St. Peters Hospital June 18, 2009 3:48 PM
St. Peters MO

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    Adventures in Sleep
    Occupation: Sleep technicians
    Setting: Various sleep facilities
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