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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4 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.

Jen the RN
4 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 »

3 years 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 »

4 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.

4 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.

judy RN
4 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.

Marisa, RN
4 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 »

4 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 »

Maine Nurse
2 years 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 »

Genn RN
4 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 »

4 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 »

Katie Bock, RN, BSN
4 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 »

Michele RN
4 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 »

maxine whittaker
5 years ago

What I find help the patient to identify us is not only introducing ourselves to the patients but a name badge. I just started working at a new hospital and each department has a distinct color. I could not remember the colors and what department wore what but a quick look at their badge with name and dept applied actually helped. P.S. I am all for the going back to white however as a child I remember being freaked out by the sight of a lady in white uniform. ( They represented pain, innoculations, etc.)

Judith A. McCormack, BSN, RN, CMSRN
2 years 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 »

4 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 »

Agnie Coba
4 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.

Sara Southard
4 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.

Old fashioned nurse
4 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 »

Laura Dillard
4 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.

Are you kidding me
4 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 »

Nancy Wilson
4 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.

Kate W
4 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 »

Theresa Gallant RN
5 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 »

Sondra L. Moylan, MS, RN
5 years ago

I agree, when multiple folks enter your room, and there is no consistency in uniform/colors – I become upset if what I requested was a nurse. I know that no one working now in a hospital wants to go back to white uniforms -and Caps – I would love to see that as a patient. Perhaps only on med/surg floors, but that is usually where us old fogies are.

Suzanne Nelson
4 months ago

Speaking as an RN for 44 years, and a patient, I’d vote for the color coded uniforms–not white. I’ve had surgery twice since 2014, and I can honestly say I didn’t know the status of anyone entering my room until they got close enough so I could read their name tag. Fortunately, the facility’s name tags had RN, PT, LVN etc in big bold letters after their name.

Pamela RN Consultant
11 months ago

I loved the all white uniform. And yes I dealt with code browns and spurting blood. Plus we didn’t have gloves as those were sterile and were only for surgeons or the occasional doctor request. We learned a folding washcloth technique to clean people up. When I graduated we wore white dresses with white hose and white shoes. And you could always tell who the nurse was. I get the one color thing too, as its hard to tell what department the person works for. I’m just too “old school” I guess.

Picki Vicki
1 year ago

In my small rural hospital the patients were surveyed and wanted the nurses to stay in white because that is one way they recognized them as nurses. Our nurse techs wear navy blue, radiology can wear anything as well as lab personnel. Survey says. . . . . . .

Ceri Morgan
1 year ago

I thank God they got rid of the caps dresses and belts in my country because they were so hot, impractical and bad for your back. We specially when working in the ED. Trying to perform CPR or restrain someone in a dress was not a good look. Now our thin blue scrubs allow us freedom to move, keeps us cool and healthy. I have not met a man that would like to wear a dress, belt and cap either. Let’s not segregate male And female nurses either. We all have the right to be comfortable and safe in our… Read more »

Sharon Bennett
1 year ago

I like when nurses wear white pants n any color tops they want. Gives us some freedom of choice n patients know exactly which caregiver is a nurse!

1 year ago

I have been a nurse for 7 years. The first 3, I worked in a hospital that was color coded. You could buy your own in whatever brand and style you wanted, but RN’s were Navy blue, lab techs wore black, RT’s wore maroon, and CNA’s wore green. I personally loved it and so did the patients. You could walk into a room or a code and immediately know who was who, or look down the hall and be able to identify the CNA or RT quickly. With turnover in nursing as bad as it is, sometimes you don’t always… Read more »

Victoria, BSN, RN-BC
1 year ago

I guess I don’t understand what the big deal is because since I graduated in 2012, I’ve always had to color-code. In Atlanta, nearly every hospital in the metro area is scrub color-coded for all employees, right down to EVS and transport staff. In addition, I believe all our Magnet designated hospitals color-code. I think the only hospital system that doesn’t color-code is the peds hospital, where they encourage bright colors and patterns. In fact, Atlanta-area wide nearly every hospital that has color-code system and designated RNs as navy blue! I will add that a color-coded system is only useful… Read more »

1 year ago

I’ve been an RN for over 35 years. I worked in the CCU all that time. I have seen uniform policies come and go. The idea of color coding the different services so the patients know who is taking care of them I don’t have a problem with as long as the facility pays for the uniforms.Also, the color coded uniforms only work if the patients know what service is what color. If you go to a color coded uniform then you should also post a sign in each patient room indicating which color is associated with each service.

1 year ago

When I worked in a level one trauma center all nurses wore dark blue, techs wore red. The doctors said they liked it because when they looked down a hall they could find a nurse. It did help immensely during a trauma because you knew who was who without having to look at faces or badges. It was much easier to get dressed for the day ☺️

1 year ago

Our organization went to this and I hated it!!! Thankfully it was short lived and we went back to wearing whatever color/pattern we want as long as we look professional. I strongly believe that if nurses are forced to wear the same color than all other professions should also be forced to wear the same color AND the hospital should provide the uniforms if that is the way that want us to dress. My husband is a Trooper with the state police and all of his uniform exept for his tee shirt, socks and underwear are provided by his company… Read more »

Peggy RN
1 year ago

At our hospital. We went to color scrubs based on you job title. RN wore dark blue. It did make it easier to tell you were RNs vs lab. It was nice to see how many nurses that we worked with

1 year ago

I currently wear the brightest most colorful scrub tops I can find. I work in long term care and my patients love the colorful scrubs, but on the flip side I have worked hospitals that each department was color coded and each nursing unit had a different color I found it helpful and it would be fine with me now, I would not have to decide what to wear every day. I personally don’t want to go back to white and caps unless the male nurses have to wear caps too that’s when I stopped wearing a cap.

1 year ago

This has been debated my whole professional life, in the beginning, females couldn’t wear pants, our hats identified us as RN or LPN and what school we attended. Moving on, hats, pins and absolute colors gave way to scrubs in any color. BTW our MD colleagues had their own secret ID code; short white coats for students and long coats for those who knew “what they’re doing”. It was always an issue when admin presses for conformity using Press Ganey surveys: of course adequate staffing never entered patient satisfaction discussions. I propose we focus on staffing issues, education, available equipment,… Read more »

Pamela Baio
1 year ago

I worked for a very large healthcare system that had allowed anyone to wear whatever color scrubs they wanted to. Then about 10 years ago they mandated a color system for the entire staff. Not just nursing. Through shared governance we got to pick our color of scrubs and every department had to abide by the rules. Nurses got to wear navy, white or any combination of those solid colors. Respiratory chose black, CNA chose ceiling blur, pharmacy chose brown, and etc. The hospital “bought ” our 1st 2 sets of scrubs and we could go from there. There was… Read more »

1 year ago

I have only ever worn white since graduating in 1989.

There has always been confusion with patients calling someone in a uniform “nurse”

Elizabeth Johnson
1 year ago

Uniforms help patients identify personnel. Dr.- White -Nurse white or blue tech—green. People in and out all day. What about name and position tags. Some even recognize institutions by uniform style and color. Be proud of you work and manner not color of uniform. Love you all 😘

Patty Mc
1 year ago

In our hospital, color of uniforms worn were designated by department. For example, navy blue is worn by RNs, burgundy color is worn by aides, khaki color is worn by lap personnel, etc. Patients did not know the color code…I had suggested many times that a color code chart be posted so the patients would know what the colors meant…..have the. OLOL. Hart posted in room and/or halls. general on ensus was that white was not favored by any department…Everyone has to buy their own uniforms…Colorful or print tops could be worn for major…holidays only ….

Robert Keith Ferguson
1 year ago

I have to tell you that after 35 years as a Nurse I’ve retired. I have always worn a white uniform and according to my patients it gave an air of professional pride and expertise. Yes, it’s hard to keep a white uniform looking good ( I spent my last 10 years as an IV Therapist) but I have found that the patient’s stress level decreased while I provided service. And by the way I am also a male. Robert RN-ret

1 year ago

I agree on keeping the color specific to specialty. Honestly I don’t like all white either, but maybe if it was surgical green. Just for RN’s. I am a retired RN and I know when the RNs did this when I was hospitalized it was way less confusing

1 year ago

I am a retired RN and have worked in many areas of nursing, the last 20 yrs was in a corp.owned family practice/pediatrics. When I first started it was owned by a community hosp. We were allowed to wear any color/print scrubs ,it was nice for the pt to see all the differnt colors,patterens, especially when in peds and the kids loved the characters. When the corporation took over we went to all one color,drab tops black pants. I know the pts were a little disappointed. I think it certainly made a difference in peds!!

1 year ago

I can see wearing white but if you’re like most nurses is your uniform still white at the end of the day?

2 years 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 »

3 years 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.

3 years 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.

3 years 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.