Color-Coded Care?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


This isn’t a relatively new topic, but it’s a hot topic still up for debate. What do you think about mandating nurses to wear a specific colored scrub uniform?

I myself have had 2 reactions to this problem. My first reaction was a defensive reflex. “What do you mean requiring me to wear a specific uniform?” Are you paying for it? What the heck? What’s wrong with what I have been wearing for years?

I can’t say I was agreeing or disagreeing with this, I just questioned the notion. Honestly I have always only worn one uniform color of scrubs. I’ve never been one to wear the patterned scrub outfits (I hate to say it – is it because I’m a guy?).

I also starting having this overwhelming nightmarish vision of nurses being in all white again. Whether good or bad, I really can’t say I ever liked the stereotypical all white uniform, or the cap, or the skirt, or polished white shoes. Maybe it’s just me, but when I see an all white uniform I think of the orderlies who work in the psychiatric ward (yes, I fully admit to watching too much television). I guess I just feel that we as a profession have grown and evolved beyond what that uniform represents. We are not hand maidens, nor are we subordinates. We are independent thinkers and patient advocates who demand and require a great deal of critical thinking skills and knowledge. I despise the ‘I’m just the nurse’ attitude and answer.

So, color coded professions ehh? I’ve learned that the movement to go back to all white, or at least one color is motivated by those wonderful people from Press-Ganey. For anyone that has some familiarity with this program, company and service, they provide a measuring tool for how well a certain facility, profession is doing their intended duties. Patient satisfaction is the cornerstone of nursing, and Press Ganey has become the experts on patient satisfaction. (If you’ve ever been a patient, you get a lil’ survey during or after your stay – asking how your stay was)

So, patient satisfaction scores (from surveys) has informed us that most patients have no idea who is going in and out of their hospital room because of all the multiple outfits, uniforms, colors, etc. Are they a doctor? A nurse? A surgeon? A radiology tech? The list goes on.

It was discovered that patient satisfaction increased when the facility made each department and service have an exclusive color/uniform. When a person in a ‘white uniform’ entered their room – even if they weren’t told, they assumed and knew it was a nurse. This is unfortunately due to the stereotype I talked about earlier.

I for one really hate the all white uniform, but I’m all about providing the best care possible for my patients. While I’m joining the ranks of complaining of solid colored nursing uniforms and the all white persona, how can I / we argue with an intervention that increases patient satisfaction?

I’d love to hear you thoughts on this one. Share in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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2 years ago

Ok, if we are color-coding the nurses, then shouldn’t the doctors also be color- coded? They can all wear the same color shirt and different ties to point out their specialties? They are also a professional group just like the nurses. I am also a nurse of over 40 years and remember when we were asked to give up our chairs when the doctor needed it or even bring him coffee.. I remember the long road to be called a professional in our own right. So I say, if color-coding is mandated, then ALL professionals must be required to partake.

Agnie Coba
2 years ago

This is America,(USA)known for segregation,racism,anything to identify you with why not UNITY,at least in a most Simple,and Affordable way.

judy RN
2 years ago

Whoa, I didn t know this was a RN/LPN discussion , but since we are here goes-I was told by a LPN that she hated me because I was a RN. Guess what? She learned to love me because I treated her with respect! My unit is a rehab unit and we can wear whatever we want as long as we look professional, we do have fun during the hoildays wearing fun scrubs. We wear name tags so no one confuses us with others.

Genn RN
2 years ago

We have 2 hospitals about 30 miles apart. One of the RNs from hospital A wearing her required color-coded scrubs went on an errand to hospital B. The scrubs she was wearing happened to be the scrubs that housekeeping wore at hospital B. As she was walking down the hall, a patient’s family member called her to the patient’s room and demanded she mop up the mess in the bathroom right now. The nurse tried to explain her situation but her explanation met with an announcement that she was going to be reported to administration for her poor work habits.… Read more »

Katie Bock, RN, BSN
2 years ago

White is OLD SCHOOL and doesn’t stay white for long! Caps collect germs and bump into things! I’m PROUD of both that I had to wear EARLY in my career, but having been a patient (peds and adult) I LOOKED FORWARD to seeing what “my nurse” would be wearing each day! Most hospital systems in my area do the color-coded thing. I LIKE it as it DOES help me to know “who is who (RT, PT, RN, CNA, etc.).” Don’t know if most patients who are not nurses catch onto this and “get the code.” STILL….printed scrubs add interest to… Read more »

2 years ago

Patients still ask the housekeeper for a pain pill . . . And as a traveling nurse I’ve worked in many hospitals and trust me, patients don’t know or care who is in which color. On the other hand, I have gotten plenty of compliments on my print scrubs from patients when I’m allowed to wear them.

2 years ago

If the company buys them, who cares. As a patient many of times, I do not pay attention to the scrubs but to the care I am receiving and the manner of delivery.

Maine Nurse
7 months ago

I worked in a hospital in NM that had scrubs color coded by job. All nurses wore white tops with navy pants/skirt. As patients walked into the hospital there was a big poster with a silhouette wearing a white top and navy pants and it was labeled NURSE. It stated: “If you need help please stop any individual that looks like this.” After 2 months, patients commented that they liked knowing who was coming into their room. There were stories of individuals walking in the front door and being able to get assistance because they knew who could help them.… Read more »

1 year ago

Some of the comments I have read in this thread justify the saying, “ Nurses eat their young”. I’m currently a student graduating with a BSN in December, and CNA’s can run circles around me. In this field experience is what matters, not a degree. My mom has been a Nurse for 35 years with an ASN, and it’s ridiculous to me that the profession has become so concentrated on academics. I am personally so grateful for CNA’s , LPN’s, and NICE RN’s that recall what it was like to be a newbie.. the ones that are willing to help… Read more »

Sara Southard
2 years ago

I work in MCH. There are studies that show children are more fearful of the white coat than colored, cheerful, age appropriate scrubs. In fact many pediatricians wear colorful ties or chold friendly clothing to herlp put a child at ease.
I dont think mandating color coded uniforms improves care. Keep in mind the Press Ganey scores are being completed by a population that will change with time. Hopefully we wont make a broad change without using EBP to support the change.

Jen the RN
2 years ago

Why do branches of the military wear uniforms? Why do sports teams? Why pilots? It creates unity and makes it less about the individual, more about the unit as a whole. Uniforms give a sense of pride in being part of the team. It makes them instantly recognizable and ilicits respect from the public. If all medical professions wore a standard color (like in England, there’s a national standard blue uniform) our individual professions would be instantly recognizable. What I wear is totally unimportant to me. I’m fine with the navy scrubs my hospital uses because i don’t have to… Read more »

Marisa, RN
2 years ago

I think it is an absolutely ridiculous practice. I work at a hospital that has mandated colors, and now is changing all of our colors again. Not only do we have to buy said special “antimicrobial” new scrubs from the hospital owned company, they also have to have the hospital logo embroidered on them. The hospital only provides one pair, period. Not one a year, but ONE. And they are over $50 per pair. I can tell you that patients do not pay attention to scrub colors or bold colored name tag with capital letters saying who we are. I… Read more »

Theresa Gallant RN
3 years ago

I began my career in the white uniform, which transitioned to one color scrubs, then street clothes for a period, and now a mandated white shirt black pants. There are lots of arguments about what LOOKS professional, and whats best for patients. Why have we lost the respectful practise of introducing ourselves, and taking a minute to explain what they can expect from us? That one minute shows concern for who the patient is, respect for thier needs and expectations, and also respect for thier space. Just because they have consented to a hospital admission doesn’t mean that anyone can… Read more »

Judith A. McCormack, BSN, RN, CMSRN
5 months ago

I like the all white uniform, but then, I continue to wear my hat! I work for a Veterans hospital and the Veterans know that when I enter the room that I am a Registered Nurse. Many comment on the uniform and thank me for continuing to wear the “traditional” uniform. My response is that it is important to me that when a patient asks a question of someone related to medical issues, that they know they are asking a Nurse. I also state that my Veterans wore a uniform for me, and it is the least that I can… Read more »

10 months ago

When I had my first jobs at restaurants, we were wearing black pants and white tops. Whwen I worked for fast food restaurants, we wore the company uniform,nwhatever color (variations of orange and red as that stimulated appetite). When I worked in a nursing hime, housekeepers wore light blue /patterned tops and dark blue pants, nursing wore white lowers , colored tops, and nurses wore white WITH HATS stapled to their heads 9Bobby pins). When I was a housekeeper in a large hospital , females were housekeepers wearing rose print tops and white bottoms. Men wore brown. Nurses still wore… Read more »

1 year ago

Where I work, nurses (RN and LPN) wear navy blue or white, or a combination of the two. I like this because it gives us an option of what to wear. I would not like having to wear all white (or a skirt! But it is allowed for females if that’s what we want to wear)- this way I can wear a white top and navy pants or vice vera. It still does look professional, and we still have a little bit of freedom in choosing our work attire.

1 year ago

At first I really disliked color coding. Then one day a pt stated she found it comforting she knew who the nurse was. She went on to say she could not read name tags anymore but could see colors. That was an eye opener. We want our pt.’s to comfortable so that they can heal.

1 year ago

May I suggest progressive education? CNA to LPN to RN to RNP to !MD. It would certainly make some people more empathetic, and level the playing field. Would also add time, experience and income.

What happened to school pins?

Badges should be double-sided to eliminate the ol’ “flip my badge over so I get more (name your reason). Progressive education/ certification could be laddered to the original badge – CCRN, BSN-C, Preceptor, etc.

2 years ago

It’s not the clothes that make the nurse it is the skill and knowledge. Scrubs are much more colorful and enjoyed my most patients. Wearing a hospital name tag and introducing yourself and your designation is more important than what color you are wearing. I have been a nurse for 36 years and although I like white it is not practical and not necessary. I prefer patterned tops and solid pants. I think as long as the clothing is neat and clean it is irrelevant to the care you give. there are so many more important things to think about… Read more »

Ellen Harper
2 years ago

I don’t really know what everyone is in such an uproar about. Most hospitals where I worked early in my career had different color scrubs, if you wanted to wear scrubs, that were determined by the area where you worked. Rose is right in that most patients would probably prefer that nurses wear white.

2 years ago

Back in the 90’s each floor could decide which color to wear. All staff permanently assigned to that floor wore the same color uniforms(scrubs). The patients could easily became confused between the nurses and the support staff. A staff member that was floated to another floor was an oddity. Nurses should stand out, patients should not ever be confused between the nurse and support staff. Wearing certain color uniforms, based upon duties and roles, makes it easier for patients (and family members) to identify the nurse. Wear the white proudly, you earned it!

2 years ago

You can’t beat this idea. The nursing administration where I worked wanted the nurses to wear scrubs with the big letters RN all over them ( like the Riddler on the old Batman show). ( they never asked the doctors to wear scrubs with MD all over them)

2 years ago

1961 grad from a hospital based school for LPNs and have been licensed ever since in 4 states. Worked every department except PICU and the OR and took the same certification courses as the “real” nurses. Wore white and caps, even when family needs changed and I took up working in nursing homes. Eventually ditched the uniform for street clothes in alcohol and drug treatment centers which I did for 15 years. My LPN also helped when beginning working on an Associate Degree in addiction treatment. I held dual roles as health educator in several facilities. Finally, before retiring I… Read more »

Old fashioned nurse
2 years ago

I have been a nurse for 34 years. I entered the work force wearing white dresses, white hose, and white shoes. Yes stuff does get on the uniform but nothing bleach and a good washing didnt take care of. I was proud of my profession and proud to be a nurse. Everyone knew who the nurse was because we wore all white. We only wore our caps on special days and it was fun to see the different caps. When I was a pediatric nurse I made these apron sort of things with pockets out of material with the cartoon… Read more »

2 years ago

I’m an older nurse of 35 years in practice. I’m from the white cap and dress times and as others have mentioned, I’ve seen all the different changes. My employer had use change from colorful whatever we choose patterns and colors to EVERYONE wearing a faded looked like it had already been washed 100 times teal! My employer proved them so they put their name in it. They looked sloppy, faded, drab, and did not fit anyone well. Since the entire range of staff all wore the same thing it was NOT done to help pt know who is who,… Read more »

Laura Barajas
2 years ago

I think this is horrible in Pediatric hospitals. In the 26 years that I worked in a Pediatric hospital, almost every day a child commented on the cartoon characters on my scrub tops. It helped their comfort level in an often scarey environment. Large RN, etc. badges in Red made it clear for the families what our roles were.

David Moberg
2 years ago

I just recently joined a healthcare organization that uses color-coded scrubs for their hospitals and clinics. I wasn’t a fan of the idea at first, (probably because I had to wear black scrubs), but after hearing from patients, I am now convinced that this a great concept. Now, as a patient that receives his care within the company, I am even more convinced. I know what department is interacting with me BEFORE I read the name badge. While it does take away from the independence factor, (we are individual professionals), it does add to the professional appearance of the organization… Read more »

Laura Dillard
2 years ago

I don’t know if I am one to comment on this subject because I work in the Operating Room and we have always have had to wear color coded scrubs. But, the hospital pays for them and launders them. I have had patients comment that they couldn’t tell a nurse from a housekeeper. The main objection I do have is that company reps wear scrubs. I feel that is completely inappropriate in a patient care setting.

2 years ago

I was a PCA for 12 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I have worked with Cancer patients for 17. I do not like the color coded uniforms.
I’ve had several patients tell me and other staff that they love the colorful (solid and prints) uniforms. It brightens the room and day for them..If you introduce yourself when you go in the room, have your name tag where it can be seen and explain why you are there, patients wouldn’t be confused.

Lois C.
2 years ago

I have just recently semi- retired and only now do private consulting. I too am from the era of all white uniforms, hose, polished shoes and white, clean, starched cap. I always felt proud to wear white and look clean and crisp and I personally liked it. I felt that patients/families and visitors knew who the nurses were vs the other staff. I do remember the change into scrubs and gradually the loosening of the uniform expectations even further. I do know that through all the changes with uniforms nurses have incurred, many departments have maintained particular colors for identity.… Read more »

Vicky Stevens RN CCRN
2 years ago

I am now nearing retirement and when I started in nursing I wore white dresses and proudly wore a nursing cap….until said cap fell into a bedside commode. I was doing cartwheels when nursing was told we could wear pants. I was speechless and nearly tearful when when the hospital decided colored scrubs were OK. Currently our non for profit hospital system went to color coded scrubs. In acute care hospital setting we no longer employee LPN’s but they have transitioned to clinic settings. The LPN’s will be happy to know our LPN’s wear the same colored scrub as the… Read more »

2 years ago

All the negative back and forth about LPN’s and RN’s get over it, they are nurses! Reality check!
The color coding issue is not new people! All nurses wore white at one time, talk about colorless coding! Oh I forgot most nurses today never wore white, what a pity!
Nursing needs to find better topics to grapple with like overcrowding, demands by pencil pushers who don’t live our reality!

Are you kidding me
2 years ago

Now offense to the high and mighty RN’s, but all that the LPN’s are saying is that they are nurses too. Their scope of practice may be a little more limited (not by much), but they are still nurses! Being an RN does not give you the right to belittle “just an LPN”. I know some LPN’s who will run circles around some of the RN’s, many LPN’s train new RN’s (yes you read that right) and some of them have been bullied by “I’m an RN” so much that they have thicker skin and can handle a lot more… Read more »

2 years ago

There appears to be valid research on what makes patients feel more comfortable and confident when they are hospitalized. We should be paying more attention to patients’ preferences. In a nutshell, it should be about them not us! As nurses we should be talking and caring more about what is best for patients than our preferences about the color and style of our “working wardrobe”.

2 years ago

I M glad to be out of the all white… however, I am all for color coding. As a nurse and as a patient it is so helpful to know who the nursing staff are and others also. And as nurses, think of the patient and families. How stressful to be in our hospitals with little to no control over anything- they have no understanding of the processes- we rush in their rooms and virtually demand they do our bidding- nighttime isn’t for sleeping as at least a member of nursing is going into the rooms every one to two… Read more »

Karen Agee
2 years ago

I’ve been a nurse for 43 years. When I started, we wore starched whites, cap, white stockings and polished nursing shoes. When we stopped having to dress professionally and started wearing scrubs and tennis shoes, the quality of nurses decreased. I no longer see many nurses that actually care for their residents/patients or sometimes are even aware of what the medications are for that they are giving. When I see nursing instructors eating lunch with their students after clinicals, again I wonder where the professionalism went. I feel the quality of our nurses would return if we went back to… Read more »

Michele RN
2 years ago

There’s nothing wrong with any color scrub. My issue is some individuals don’t understand they shouldn’t wear patterned panties with the white scrubs. Thank you for informing me of you’re “Juicy” rear end, love of “Pink”, or your favorite cartoon character every time you bend over to pick up God only knows what. We’re professionals. If you’re required to wear white please choose appropriate undergarments with tanktops because no one wants to see your thin lace bra either. Yes, white is harder to keep clean and pit stains are always fun. If the facility is willing to pay for my… Read more »

Carole Van Nahl
2 years ago

I truly understand nurses (LPNs & RNs) who would prefer to choose their clothing having started out myself as a BSN RN in whites with a cap.

Patients do have difficulty now identifying a nurse from all the different facility staff but a large print identification tag AND establishing a therapeutic relationship work. (Nursing 101) All the letters of appreciation prove that!

Margie Algood
2 years ago

When I first became a nurse (42 years ago) , white uniforms were the norm; this included all direct patient care persons – RN, LPN/LVN, Nurse Aids (didn’t have to be certified back then), Orderlies, etc. Dresses for women and white pants and shirts for men; unless you worked OR, L & D/Nursery- then you wore green or blue scrubs. It didn’t matter if you worked in a hospital or nursing home – You Wore White. I understand the different colors reasononing; and, it makes easier to get ready for work (which scrubs will I wear today?). Navy blue is… Read more »

Nancy Wilson
2 years ago

I had to do a paper on this subject in nursing school. I hated the white uniforms. I mostly hated the cap. I am tall and with the cap on , I was over 6′. It got stuck on everything.
About color coded uniforms I think what would really help is big ID badges. When I was a patient I would always look for the Badges. It would be better if people just introduce themselves.

Susan Kennedy
2 years ago

I’ve been a nurse for over 40 years. So I do go back to when we wore all white, and we wore our caps. (And every nurse knew how to remove ink and blood from a white uniform! And probably can tell you a story about washing white uniforms with a pen!) And every patient, no matter what their age, could readily identify a “nurse”. I have worked in other countries, presently in a private surgical hospital, where our uniforms are black pants with a black zip-front, short sleeved tunic with an antique gold colored trim (no, not sparkly, just… Read more »

2 years ago

I am in an ambulatory setting but housed in a hospital. We are mandated color coding(nursing the color black). Interestingly most clients have said they do not like us in black.
Everyone also wear badge backers with your job classifications.
I am ok with the color coding just not black.

Michelle, LPN
2 years ago

I just wanted to comment about the colors. I work with pediatrics up to geriatrics. I don’t think that the color matters. But as someone replied about everyone being called a nurse even LPN, I am a LPN and I am a nurse. I am still licensed with the state. I don’t appreciate not being called a nurse.

Karen Swartz
2 years ago

The hospital I work for went to a color coded system a few years ago, and as expected, was met with a lot of resistance, but we adapted, and it became a non-issue. Last month we were informed that there was going to be a change to the color for RN’s to navy blue from Caribbean blue. No big deal, right? However, we are also being mandated to buy a certain type of scrub, that can only be purchased through the hospital, and must have the hospital logo embroidered on it. Why? Because the hospital bought the company. And to… Read more »

Corine Mikel
2 years ago

I am a nurse and I think we should wear a different color from CNA’s and ward clerks

2 years ago

Very interesting comments. My overarching opinion is that patients, families, physicians, as well as the rest of the care givers in the hospital all need to be able to identify the professional nurse in order to direct their questions, comments & concerns, and plan of care. I too came from white uniforms, white hose, white oxfords, caps, and a nice gold pin with my (whole) name and credentials. Needless to say THAT is all gone – good or bad. The bottom line was that no one was happy not being able to identify who they were approaching. It is a… Read more »

Kate W
2 years ago

Hello- Although I agree with much of what has been said about having options, professionalism, and laundry issues, I whole-heartedly agree with the benefit of easily recognizing the caregiver that enters your patient room. I have been a nurse for 32 years and have worked in a variety of settings. Although it is ‘old school’ there is a real importance in unified colors. My health system mandates bedside nurses to be in white. This was initially met with some resistance, but has proven to be exceptionally helpful to our patients. There is some variation in the specialty units across the… Read more »

Missy Bales
2 years ago

Color coded care is a great idea. Have the bright colors, but with the code color primary. For example if an RN is coded the color navy blue, match the top and/ or jacket to navy pants using colorful tops with a navy scrub jacket, or navy scubs with a colorful jacket. Let’s not let the color code care take the place of the introduction to the patient.

Kathy Warner
2 years ago

After accompanying my wife through a week long stay in a busy Medical Center,
I can truthfully say that anything that can be done to easily identify the role of the person who enters the patient’s door is helpful and important, but for sure a badge and a quick introduction at the beginning of the shift was not enough. There are so many barriers: eyeglasses not on, groggy from medication, unclear thinking from illness, sheer volume and variety of people who walk in … But it was the Nurse she always wanted to see.

2 years ago

I have found that even WITH color coded scrubs, most patients try to call everyone a nurse, just because they are wearing scrubs. No matter the color. My own elderly family members doing this was where I first noticed it, but in talking to people who have been patients recently, this persists. It leads to a lot of frustration – recently, one relative has been livid his entire hospital/rehab stay because he asks anyone in scrubs a question, or demands something of them. In many cases, even introducing yourself and stating your role and responsibility doesn’t help a lot… but… Read more »