Dress codes are standard practice in many professions. In nursing, how nurses dress can influence patient care and satisfaction. Since insurance reimbursements now rely heavily on quality-of-care metrics, dress codes may even impact a healthcare organization’s bottom line. Nursing administrators in various roles are often responsible for determining appropriate dress codes for their staff, so students completing a Master of Science in Nursing Administration (MSN) program can expect to examine this topic.
History of the Dress Code
One of the most important reasons for a dress code is to establish professionalism. Nurses must represent their employers in a positive light — their appearance is an important part of this responsibility. In the past, dress codes for nurses were strict and often included a uniform skirt, nursing cap, hose and plain shoes — typically white.
Uniformity gave way to individuality, practicality, gender inclusivity, functionality and infection control over the years. Scrubs, in a variety of patterns and colors, replaced traditional attire. Colorful sneakers and clogs replaced white nursing shoes and hose. Nurses could finally express themselves a bit more and wear clothing more conducive to
A 2019 review of aggregated research found that patients surveyed in various studies felt it was challenging to distinguish licensed nurses from licensed practical nurses or nursing assistants. Accordingly, respondents believed that nurses wearing identical uniforms communicated more professionalism.
The general consensus of the studies reviewed suggests that the appearance and style of nurses’ professional attire can impact perceptions of professionalism, skill, competency and safety. From the “very first impressions” these factors can “significantly influence the creation of an appropriate therapeutic relationship, essential to the proper implementation of the holistic process of nursing the patients.”
Nursing dress codes go beyond scrubs and shoes. Piercings, tattoos and jewelry can impact patient perception. Even personal preferences like hair, makeup and perfume can affect how patients regard nurses and the quality of care they receive. The process of establishing trust between the nurse and the patient can be complicated by patient perceptions like these.
Yet, body art has become normalized to a degree, even within healthcare settings. For instance, almost half of Americans under 40 years old have tattoos, according to a 2022 Rasmussen Report. A 2019 Medscape poll found that 67% of respondents think having tattoos can be appropriate for clinicians. And Incredible Health points out that, while there can be drawbacks to displaying body art, it can also help patients relate to nurses on a personal level while deconstructing stereotypes surrounding body art.
In response to shifts in societal norms, employers continuously revise their dress codes and guidelines regarding body art and uniforms. Some have designated specific scrubs for licensed nurses, based on the nurses’ specialties. Some place no restrictions on body art while others restrict tattoo visibility. Keeping current on changing societal norms and best practices surrounding these aspects of the nurse’s appearance and patient perception is important for healthcare professionals who aspire to be nursing administrators.
Dress Codes Matter
While something as simple as a dress code may seem trivial, it can have a significant effect on how patients perceive the quality of care. Misperceptions can even hinder nurses’ ability to establish trust with their patients. A standardized nursing dress code can improve nurse-patient interactions and increase patient satisfaction.