Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scotland may have it right

When I first began studying nursing, back when the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth, most nurses had stopped wearing caps but there were still rules about not wearing your uniform to or from work (in a few hospitals), not having long, painted nails, long hair, and so on.

It wasn't long before those rules eroded away completed and nurses could come and go in their uniforms, some not only had long painted nails, but they had artificial ones, hair was hanging down, and sometimes the uniforms didn't quite look like uniforms.

I remember on my very first nursing student orientation to the floor. We were on a tour of the unit and anxiously looking around, trying to get our bearings. We had been drilled into knowing what we could and couldn't do - it was almost always what we could NOT do, now that I think about it. We'd been told about the hair, the nails, the make up. We were told never to touch the medications in our hand but to tap them from the container into a pill cup, things like that.

Our teacher brought us to the medication room so we could check it out. In it was this very heavily made up nurse, hair swinging below her shoulders, tapping out medications into her hand, which - by the way - had long blood red nails. My poor teacher!

I's not just the nurses, I remember thinking, if nurses' caps were such an infection issue, why do male doctors wear ties that flop over patients' beds when the doctors bend over to examine patients? But, then it seemed to go to the extreme too - doctors began wearing much more casual clothes, to the point that it became difficult for patients to identify who were doctors and who were visitors.

Now, lest you think I'm pining for the old days, far from it! I don't want to go back to starched uniforms, inspections and so on, but I do think that we need return to a few common sense rules. And, it seems the National Health Authority in Scotland thinks so too.

First off, men's ties (and women if they wear them) are history. They're not allowed when staff are working with patients. Second, nurses are provided uniforms that are not to be worn out of the institution. Third, and the one that surprised me, to tell you the truth, is the banishment of the lab coat, the long flapping in the wind, white lab coat that has pockets deeper than a woman's purse.

The rules go even farther. Staff will not be allowed to carry pens, etc, in outside breast pockets and we're going back to the "tie your hair back" rule.

Let's hope that these measures do start cutting down on infections among hospitalized patients.

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