A Sign of the Times: The Way We Dress
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.