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The Color Debate: What Your Scrubs Say About You

When you wear colorful scrubs, you’re not just making a fashion statement.

  • In a study published in 2009, researchers investigated the association between multicolored scrubs and pediatric patient (and parent) perception. Nurses who wore brightly colored scrubs were perceived as more helpful and friendly than those who wore standard blue scrubs. Parents rated nurses in colorful scrubs as more reassuring and less frightening to kids.
  • A similar study showed comparable findings. Children felt more anxious with nurses wearing white uniforms than those wearing brightly colored scrubs.
  • This article from Pediatric Nursing reported that, when asked, children preferred a boldly printed top and solid colored bottom.

The Other Side Of The Coin

But some think nursing uniforms should be standardized to promote easy recognition and higher visibility among healthcare staff. Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta instituted a dress code in 2004 requiring nurses to wear only white scrubs. And the data in this literature review suggests that patients felt RNs were more easily identifiable and perceived as professional in a standardized uniform.

So what do you think?

Should nursing uniforms be standardized or should nurses have a degree of choice in what they wear?

Do you think it’s important to wear colorful scrubs in pediatric nursing or do you think it affects the public’s perception of professionalism?

33 Comments Post a comment
  1. I work with a nurse who is always wearing brightly color-coordinated scrubs. I believe she cheers up our clients while dealing with their otherwise grim situation.

    January 2, 2014
  2. Helen #

    I’m not a nurse, but as a patient and mother of a patient, I prefer the variation, where some wear patterned and colorful outfits and others don’t. In surgery, it is understandable to wear one uniform, but when you are dealing with us conscious patients, we prefer you to look like human beings. It makes it more comfortable to see you as a person instead of part of some cold heartless, conformity machine. If a nurse is wearing blue or white in an environment where they choose to, it is very different than when everyone is wearing white. Health care is about making the best decisions for each individual. I would feel less confident in those treating and in those caring for me if they couldn’t even make a decision as to what they are able to wear.

    November 30, 2013
  3. Laurie Stuart #

    I have been in Nursing for 28 years and feel my professionalism has nothing to do with the clothes that I am wearing – it is my approach to my patients, my respect to their families, the collaboration with the medical staff and the team work with my peers. I feel this new trend of same colored uniforms by some in administration is another attempt at boosting the satisfaction scores because of a couple of articles someone read. You are grasping at straws, folks. I know by being at the bedside that many times our satisfaction scores are good DESPITE the fact that we were short staffed, working a double shift, don’t receive all our legal breaks, are given more and more responsibilities and have been forced to become slaves to the time-sucking computers. If the “numbers” look good it is because we are nurses first and WE CARE to go that extra mile to make sure our patients well cared for, more comfortable, less scared and let them know they are in competent and caring hands. So save the money on matching scrubs and invest in more nurses. Next time you want to try a new trend to increase those “numbers” respectfully ask those actually doing the work.

    May 3, 2013
  4. Maria #

    I’ve been an ICU and ER RN for over 25 years and have found that darker solid colors lend to more respect from patients, families and colleagues. The badge and our demeanor shows we are RNs, not the fashion or color statements.

    April 30, 2013
  5. Peg #

    If the hospital is providing the scrubs or laundering them, I can see certain colors for certain jobs. My more prim and proper co-workers always wear solid colors. I enjoy the prints, so do my patients, however one MD acted like I looked unprofessional, perhaps because I was not in Peds. Many of my patients bring their children with for appointments. I worked one place where we all (even ward clerks) wore the same scrubs so it looked like there were many nurses on duty. Some friends on Maternity did not want cutsie scrubs in case a Mom had a stillborn or miscarriage.
    I have mixed emotions because I, too worked hard to be an RN and want that recognition that white gives when practical. I’m not a tech and don’t want people to think others in white are nurses when they are not.

    April 29, 2013
  6. Donna #

    I’m a new nurse and I only wear white. I worked hard to
    become a nurse. I don’t want to be confused with the rest of the staff (Lab tech,xray tech,nurses aid,transportor,Etc. I want the public to know now many nurses there are on the floor. A nurse in white with a cheery smile makes the whole world smile.

    April 29, 2013
    • moe #

      It is understood that you worked get hard for your degree but don’t you think persons might get the wrong perception of you when reading what you said about not wanting to be mistaken for a Cna..

      April 30, 2013
  7. Karen #

    I suggest you consider enrolling in an RN Refresher Course, which will get you “out there” and require a clinical experience. Once the employers get to know you, I bet they will hire you. Good luck!

    April 29, 2013
  8. Kathy Wifall #

    I work in a small nursing home, where we wear scrubs. It does not matter what color they are, as long as we are neat and clean in appearance. Residents don’t care who is a nurse or CNA, if they need something, there is no distinction between RN, LPN, or CNA and even other staff. When they want medications, it is different. Our residents have verbally remarked how nice we all look in our cheery uniforms, (those that are A & O). Thank God we can wear different colors, living in a NH can be devastating for residents and families both. Our name badges are clear enough and easily read to differentiate between “rank”.

    April 29, 2013
  9. I have been wearing colorful scrubs to work for years and the patients love it. They always comment on my clothes, even the difficult ones. Years ago my employer had nurses wearing white and CNA wearing green or purple the residents at the nursing home complained and they had to change so nurses could wear floral scrubs.

    April 29, 2013
  10. luvsthebucs #

    I left nursing for several years & decided to return. Realized my AD wouldn’t get me very far, so returned to The Ohio State University for my BSN. Am having a terrible time finding a job. Am I a new grad? An experienced RN with new skills. An experienced RN, new skills, new degree, but no recent experience? What do you think? I can’t be the only one in this position.

    April 29, 2013
  11. Shanna #

    We introduce ourselves upon entering the room and taking report from the previous nurse and that should identify us enough. I think one color is boring and other color tend to change the attitudes of some of the patients. Children like colors so nurses should be able to wear colors to calm children. I have worked in the profession for 30 ears and I think as long as you are clean and professionally well dressed you should be able to wear what you want because some patient will ask who you are regardless of the color of your uniform.

    April 29, 2013
  12. All things change. Remember the “nursing cap” that told patients a nurse was a nurse. I sure do. Graduating with my Associates degree in 1984 I was required to wear my “cap” everyday unless I worked on Pediatrics on a given day, then I could leave it off. We also started out with white scrubs and then we put on our “colorful smocks” or aprons to fake the kids out. As nurses we are almost always told that “the patient comes first.” Why is it that when the majority of our patients enjoy the colors we choose that just a few who prefer the white which so often becomes soiled and necessaryr to replace get the attention of our administrators and cause a change to yesterday. Progress is what our profession thrives on. Why go back to the old days from where we have progressed?

    April 29, 2013
  13. It depends what you mean by ‘uniform.’ Are you referring to scrubs, or maybe to the older nun’s habits or dresses? At our facility we wear black and white, which patients have told me brings up thoughts of a server in a restaurant, a hair dresser, or a nun.

    April 29, 2013
  14. Clare #

    I am the nurse for a pediatric specialty clinic, and the patients and their parents definitely respond better to brightly colored scrubs, especially the ones with cartoon characters. I wore a white scrub top one day and I swear all the younger children cried more just from seeing me! With my normal, bright scrubs, a child can be crying after I’ve given their shots, and suddenly they’ll stop because they get distracted by my scrubs!

    April 29, 2013
  15. Kelly #

    I work in GI and we wear black. We get both negative and positive comments from patients.

    April 29, 2013
  16. Tracy #

    I work with the senior population as a home health nurse and I make a point to wear nicely-pressed white nursing pants when visiting patient homes. Many clients have commented that the white pants are comforting and familiar to them. They trust that I am a professional nurse when they see me dressed in a way that makes clear my role.

    April 28, 2013
  17. The hospital where I work instituted a color coded scrub system allowing prints only in Pediatrics. It was explained that staff is more easily identified that way. Quite frankly, most of our patients don’t notice the difference or the fact that we are role coded. It is just one way the hospital brings down the morale of the staff. Patients will tell us that they prefer the bright colors and prints but the hospital isn’t interested in that.

    April 28, 2013
  18. Wendy #

    I work in an Endosopy Dept and our patients LOVED our colorful scrubs. It said it brightened their day and lowered their anxiety to see our “color” and our positive attitudes and the fun we had. CNO thought we should go to one color and it was pewter gray. Depressing esp in MI where we have enough grey days.

    April 28, 2013
  19. nicole #

    Bright colored and cute printed tops definitely make patients and their families smile more. You just need to wear your name tag ID without it being hidden. The IDs at my hospital say RN on them in bright Red so everyone knows who the nurses are despite which scrubs we decide to wear. I like having the freedom to choose what I want to wear.

    April 28, 2013
  20. Kathleen #

    I work in on a genitourinary oncology/urology unit and I tend to wear darker colors and solids. I feel that one needs to gauge what’s appropriate depending on the work environment. Being a female who works with mostly male patients, I find that my patients and families take me more seriously. We are allowed to choose the scrubs we wear on my unit.

    April 28, 2013
  21. Belen #

    I am a LVN working in the mental health field, out patient. I have gotten positive feedback from our clients about my bright colors or patterns. It brings a smile to their faces. My patterns remind them of happy moments and a shared interest in the characters, which leaves room for open conversation. If anything I find that a lot of the time it breaks the ice. So as long as its a option for us to wears bright colors and patterns I’m gonna keep doing it.

    April 28, 2013
  22. I think white as a nurses uniform is the most out-dated unrealistic color every chosen (spoken by someone whho has been an RN for 29 years). I think colorful scrubs have many benefits – both to the wearer and the patient. They can initiate conversations with patients and family – they can ease anxiety especially in the young etc as mentioned above. Many instititutions have initiated a job title tag that is large and colorful that is worn along with your name badge and if it is large enough – colorful – and simple enough, that should ease the issue of identifying the job of the person you are speaking with!

    April 28, 2013
  23. We wear navy pants and any form of white/navy/blue tops. PCAs wear maroon. The uniform is meant so that pts. can easily identify who is who. We also introduce ourselves during bedside change of shift rounding as do the PCAs. Still and yet, pts. do not know who is who. In my previous job, we wore whatever we wanted. I see no difference. As far as anxiety is concerned? Anxious people will be anxious no matter what you wear.

    April 28, 2013
  24. Kate #

    Pediatric populations need nurses with colored scrubs. Doctors with with white lab coats are often the first to the patients, draw blood etc. children than associate white with pain and procedures. Colorful scrubs decrease anxiety with children and allow nurses to approach children and explain procedures prior to them being done.

    April 28, 2013
  25. Raymundo Apellido #

    Ray Apellido
    I have been a nurse for 34 years and all those years were dedicated to bedside care of patient in need. I agree with the statement of Meaghan O’keefe that nurses wearing colorful uniform are reassuring than wearing white. I don’t know what transformed these Nursing leaders that they are requiring nurses to wear white. This is pathetic and barbaric ideas. This are the era of 50s. Wake up Nursing leaders. Nursing is completely different now. Its modern.

    April 28, 2013
  26. Lisa #

    I feel that elderly esp dementia pts respond to the bright colors rather than plain drab colors

    April 28, 2013
  27. As a requirement for my BSN degree, 2 other nurses and I did a survey of nurses, patients, and the general public. The patients and the general public voted for one color scrubs for nurses. The nurses wanted different colored scrubs because they didn’t want to wear the same thing to work all of the time. This was in 2003. When I graduated from LPN school in 1967, we wore white uniforms, white hose, shoes, and caps that indicated whether we were RNs or LPNs. LOL. Big changes over the years. I personally wore solid colored scrubs. I just changed colors on different days. I always wore white shoes. people always noticed that they were white. When I walked into a room a year or so back, the patient said”Thank God, someone who is wearing a uniform.” Patients and families still prefer something that looks like a uniform. Peds is different. Those nurses should wear something not scary for the children.

    April 28, 2013
  28. In a pediatric setting I think colored or patterned scrubs is a necessity to decrease the anxiety of children. Practically, I, as an ED nurse detest white uniforms. It is almost impossible to keep a white uniform clean and no one wants to see a nurse in any area of the profession in a dirty or dingy uniform. If you wear proper identification the patient and family will know who you are regardless.

    April 25, 2013
  29. Valerie Smith #

    I am an LPN working mostly in nursing homes, and I have observed that even the elderly react more positively to colorful scrubs than plain ones,especially white. I would much prefer to wear colorful scrubs and in all my other jobs, we were allowed to, but in my current job,our administrator requires us to wear only one standard color,depending on our job,ie: Turquiose for nurses,navy blue for CNAS, purple for housekeeping,etc. Only on Fridays, can we wear what we want.

    April 25, 2013
  30. Lynn Harvey #

    I am a fan of colorful scrubs in any setting, I work hospice and I feel my printed scrubs are often the only bright thing they see some days. I especially feel in Peds that everything is frightening enough for the child without stark white scrubs scaring them every time they see someone in white.

    April 25, 2013
  31. Debbie #

    As a nurse I can see both side of this issue- many times patients do not know who the nurses are because every kind of scrub is being worn. But I also believe that patients enjoy the different scrubs many times patients will comment on the cheerfulness of my scrub top so I really don’t know the answer. I do like being able to wear the scrubs of my choice I have worked in both situations.

    April 25, 2013

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