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Oh Dress Codes...

It seems like no matter what I do, or where I go I always end up having to wear some kind of uniform. I went to St. Theresa’s Catholic School from K-6th grade. Being a parochial school, we of course had to wear uniforms everyday. Humorously, we had to wear navy pants. There were also burgundy jumpers we had the option of wearing until we got into 6th grade when we could wear gray skirts and had to do away with the jumpers. At certain times of the year we could wear shorts. There were length requirements. We had the option of white, light blue, or light pink shirts we could wear. They had to have a collar. We had to wear a belt. Shirts had to be tucked in. Socks had to be white. If you were wearing a skirt, jumper or shorts you had to be wearing knee-high socks. Once I left this school I swore I would never wear a uniform again.

I was wrong. I played volleyball and softball all the way through high school. If you think Mercy College uniforms are bad, you should try being forced to wear spandex shorts under the spotlight of a crowd when you’re finishing up puberty and totally uncomfortable in your own body. I’m not sure if that was worse than the un-breathable, thick, polyester pants we had to wear for softball in 95 degree heat or not. Thankfully by my senior year we’d gotten rid of both. Also in high school I worked at Panera Bread. That uniform was khaki colored pants and tucked-in, solid color polo’s. (Probably my favorite uniform) For my CNA clinical my senior year of high school we had to wear all white scrubs. Even white underwear showed through. That was hideous.

I’ve also had to wear scrubs a majority of my time out of high school. I worked at a nursing home until my senior year of college at University of Iowa. I got out of scrubs for about a year, though. My senior year I worked in the office of the radiology department at the UIHC. That uniform was basically just business casual. My other job my senior year was at the University Box Office. We could wear whatever we wanted (EVEN SWEATPANTS) unless we were working a show (taking tickets and all that jazz), then we had a red t-shirt that said “STAFF” on the back and “UBO” on the front. I now currently work at Mercy Hospital as a PCT. Green is one of my favorite colors.

Obviously I have never found a way to get out of wearing a uniform for too terribly long. I’ve been wearing them a majority of my 22 years on this Earth, and it seems like I’ll be wearing them for at least 22 more. Navy colored pants seem to be my calling. I started with them and will probably end with them at Mercy.

While they may seem annoying at first, uniforms can really be quite convenient. Some superficial perks I’ve come to realize: You don’t have to think about what you’re going to wear. (This can come in handy for early clinical/lab days when you otherwise may end up wearing pink and red, or something out of sheer tiredness.) Your mom will usually buy your uniforms for you. (I’m a poor college student.) Also, you don’t get quite so upset if something gets spilt on them. “Blood on my scrub pants? Oh well.” I’m sure you can think of others.

On a more serious note, there are a lot of important reasons for a dress code too. The obvious main reason for a dress code is to identify one’s self. I think they bring a sense of empowerment. Hitler actually used the Nazi uniform to empower his lowly soldiers. It apparently worked a little too well in that case. In a situation where everyone is wearing the same uniform it creates a sense of equality and unity. There becomes a feeling of comradeship with others that look like you. This can build trust along with a sense of belonging. It’s very important for staff to identify with each other because we lean on one another for all kinds of things.

In our setting as healthcare providers, it also is especially important to differentiate staff into hierarchies. Students need to be identified because half the time we have no idea what we’re doing. It would be terrible for a doctor to assume that we were capable of doing all kinds of cool things we had yet to be taught. Navy means pain pills, very important for some patients. It is easier for our patients to understand what we can and cannot do. Things are color-coded in society constantly to make things work more smoothly. And it works the same for our staff members. It’s important for us to identify each other, and for patients to identify us. We all have limitations. A patient isn’t going to ask a guy that comes into their room wearing a white coat to empty their urinal. Green deals with that.

The actual uniform isn’t the only important aspect of how we look at work. Having an overall dress code (which puts restrictions on more than just clothes) is especially important for us. It ensures that we look professional. We are expected to have clean hair and nails for one. If we do not look clean, how can we expect our patients to trust our care? I would not want someone who didn’t look like they’d showered in days to be touching me, period. Since the healthcare field is completely centered on the patient, we do not want to in any way distract from that care. For example, if one of us had a large visible tattoo, this may inhibit us from properly giving a patient care because of that patient’s personal values. I think tattoos are great, but visible ones in this field can have negative connotations to how effectively we can do our job. Clients may make judgments on us immediately based on that and not trust us, or they may not give us pertinent information we need to help care for them.

Bottom line: dress codes are put in place as another tool to help effectively care for all of our main focus, the client. That is what Mercy is all about, and a dress code is one of the easiest and most efficient ways we have to help do that.

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Here is a sample of a Literary Expression of Nonfiction published in the Winter 2010 issue of VitalSigns.

Your submission could appear in the next VitalSigns and/or online. Click here to find out how.

Lindsey McPherson
Current BSN Integrated Student
“Oh, Dress Codes...”
Literary Expressions: Nonfiction