Wearing Uniforms Outside the Hospital: Dangerous, or Convenient?

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Do you wear your uniform outside of work? Do you change but wear the same shoes? When I was a student, in the late 70s/early 80s, most of the hospitals here didn't enforce any rules or policies about if nurses could wear their uniforms as they travelled to and from work.

Do you wear your uniform outside of work? Do you change but wear the same shoes?

When I was a student, in the late 70s/early 80s, most of the hospitals here didn’t enforce any rules or policies about if nurses could wear their uniforms as they travelled to and from work. One hospital did and nurses who were seen wearing their uniform outside of the hospital were spoken to. I don’t know how far the administration took it, but I don’t remember ever seeing any nurses from that particular hospital wearing their uniforms outside.

We all know the reasons behind why we shouldn’t wear our uniforms outside. When you wear the uniform to work, you may introduce things into your patients who are already compromised by being sick or having surgery. Wearing your uniform home can bring home germs from the hospital environment out to the public and into your home. I’ve seen nurses stop at the grocery store on the way home from work — is that an issue we need to be concerned about?

These issues, though, are often met with the argument that visitors and other hospital workers who don’t wear uniforms can do the same thing: bring bacteria and viruses back and forth. And what of nurses who work in areas where you wear street clothes, as I did when I worked in palliative care? As for the grocery store example, we don’t know where the other shoppers have been. We don’t know how clean — or not clean – they are and what they may be bringing in to the store. So is it fair to single out nurses?

One thing I noticed when I was working in the hospitals, was that the changing or locker rooms were often far from the rest of the hospital. Sometimes, they were in a sub-basement where you had to walk through several empty corridors to get to the hospital proper. I have to say, in those situations, unless it was the middle of the day, it didn’t always feel very safe to be so far away from the rest of the hospital population. In this day and age of fearing for personal safety, I think this is something that should be addressed.

An issue that I’ve hear many nurses bring up is time. We are scheduled to work eight or 12 hours for our shift — that’s what we’re paid for. Nursing, by its very nature, doesn’t really allow for you showing up on the floor exactly on time. You need to come in a bit early to get your assignment and bearings so you can start working when the shift begins. So, if you have to go to an out of the way locker room before your shift, you’re adding a considerable amount of time to the beginning of your day.

I remember one floor I worked on, the nurses were supposed to be there about 10 to 15 minutes before the start of their shift. The hospital was really large and you had to take two different elevators to get from the locker room to the floor. Because it was also a very busy hospital, sometimes it could take a good while to get an elevator, so it wasn’t unheard of to take 10 minutes (or more) to get from the locker room to the floor. Some nurses resented having to be at work more than half an hour before their scheduled shift, not just because of the starting time, but because the reverse was the same at the end of the day. They rarely left the floor on time, it could take 10 to 15 minutes to get to the locker room, so by the time they are leaving work, it’s at least a half hour before the end of their shift. A half hour before shift, a half hour after shift, plus the commute — that all adds up in the end.

In my mind, if the hospitals want to enforce policies of not wearing uniforms outside the hospital, they have to make their facilities more nurse-friendly. Locker rooms shouldn’t be the most distant rooms in the place nor should they be in dungeon-like environments. When I worked in an ICU, the hospital provided the scrubs and we had to get them at the hospital, change there, and at the end of the shift, throw our used scrubs into the laundry bin so they could be washed. I know that something like this adds to a budget, but if hospital administrators really did want to encourage changing inside the hospital, that is one way to do it.

What do you think?

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