What does it mean to you? When UNA introduced “White Wednesdays” I was excited to wear white again. I graduated in 1984. Graduation Day signified I earned the right to wear white. A white uniform, white stocking, white duty shoes and my nursing cap with a single black velvet band. I remember feeling so proud that day. I stood a little taller, and even perhaps felt a little smarter.
So a couple of weeks ago on “White Wednesday” (granted it is now almost 30 years later)….. I wore white scrubs and my nursing cap with the single black velvet band. I would of worn my “dress whites” if I could of found a pair of white stockings, and white duty shoes!!
I proudly reported for duty. The older patients greeted me with smiles and compliments “Ah a REAL NURSE”. One patient, a retired Nurse herself, stood up, clapped, and grinned from ear to ear. Another patient had tears in his eyes as he told me I reminded him of how his Mother and Sister looked as they headed off, to report for duty. I so love that old term…..”Report for duty” Anyway, those were the good responses.
Next, I was asked if it was Halloween? Did I really wear that? One patient just outright stated “I don’t like that, it makes me feel like you are an authority figure”. “Might be Okay in a hospital, but not in a community setting”.
I have to say, the more negative comments that came my way, the more defensive I became. I asked the patient how she felt about policemen in uniform, army personal in uniform? She responded that was different.
That comment made me pause for a moment.
Is it different? My white uniform and traditional cap are not a costume to be worn at Halloween. It is a uniform! A symbol of the Profession of Nursing. A Profession that I am very proud to be a part of!!!
So feeling my strong reaction I decided to research a bit into why nurse’s wore white, and why did we stop?
The overview of what I read, goes something like this. “Nurses” started out as more like servants. Dressed in white aprons, and historical servant attire they cared for the ill. There was no formal training women passed on information between one another and took on the role of caregiver. Like everything else, some were better than others so they took the lead to “teach” other women their skill.
Around the 1900’s one of the few professions available to women was that of Nursing. Nursing had developed into a recognized profession. Nursing has a very detailed history which is very, interesting, however, I wanted to know about the uniforms. From the 1900 to 1960 the nursing uniform took on many transformations, white dresses and caps still remained a common thread. The Nurses’ starched white dresses, stocking, shoes and hats gave them an individual identity. Then came the 1960’s the color white took on a different meaning “In the constant struggle for independence from doctors, some nurses started to see the white uniform as a symbol of the angelic, demure dependent woman – not of the tough, resourceful professional she really is”, New York University professor Elizabeth Norman said in March 18,2002, issue of the New Yorker magazine.
I found Elizabeth Norman’s quote very interesting. I asked my daughter Avy, who is a 4th year Nursing student what she thought about white uniforms. She too stated, “white symbolized purity, angelic, perfection”……interesting???
I am very happy to say that Men have also joined the Nursing Profession (and hopefully their numbers will continue to rise). Our Brothers in Nursing did not wear caps, they did wear the white uniforms. I have heard the Men had a black band on the RN pins, or had a single black band on the arms. I would love to hear from my male counterparts their opinion of white!
White uniform, white cap…..a nurse!! We want everyone to understand that a safe Registered Nurses/ Patient ratio improves outcomes. If you walk into any medical facility you will not be able to tell who is who. If we cannot tell, we can not expect the general public to know!
I loved this quote from Debi Albert:
“Now the color white has come full circle, and it’s back as the “new’ power suit”. The return to the traditional white uniform gave many a sense of belonging- and belonging to something that’s bigger than themselves,” Says Debi Albert
What do you think?
Yours in Nursing,
Heather Dean RN