A Symbol of Our Profession

“Perception is reality.“

Unquestionably, most all of us have heard this phrase. Though common of an expression as it is, does that make it any less accurate? No it does not, certainly not in the case of appearance in the healthcare field.

Subconsciously, we associate an individual’s appearance with their performance. In nursing, this same paradigm applies. Though in the years of Florence Nightingale the starch white dress was the emblem of the registered nurse, contemporary scrub attire has since replaced the need for such rigidity in uniform. These days, registered nurses wear scrubs, which have become the standard hospital attire for nurses, orderlies, technicians, and maintenance personnel alike. Patients sometimes have difficulty distinguishing roles, which can unfortunately diminish the importance of role of the registered nurse.

However, one thing remains constant despite decades of change in nursing wear: nursing has consistently been deemed the most trusted profession of all professions.

Why? How we outwardly present ourselves is a fraction of the answer.

Apart from the present-day scrub trend, the wearing of the white coat has gained momentum amongst the nursing community. The color white has inherently projected a sense of cleanliness, goodness, and empowerment. With the donning of the white coat, its symbolism holds the same regard.  

The first time a nurse is introduced to the white coat is during the white coat ceremony. The white coat ceremony has become an academic ritual in many healthcare professions. It is a ceremony that represents a transformation of status from student to that of one studying to become a healthcare professional. While donning the white coat is a sign of a changed role, the white coat is also a powerful symbol of transformation. White is a symbol of purity, and the white coat symbolizes the purity of purpose being affirmed in becoming a healthcare professional. Patients must trust that the nurse’s knowledge and skills will be used in their best interest—always to benefit, never to harm.

The white coat symbolizes an affirmation on the part of aspiring nurses that their purpose will be pure and that they can be trusted to honor the tradition of the learned professions in placing the interest of patients above self. Throughout the career of the nurse, the white coat continues to be upheld as a symbol of goodness and virtue in duty, a medical symbol as powerful and familiar as the stethoscope.

I believe that a nurse’s appearance speaks volumes in relation to clinical competence. Patients want to know, undoubtedly, that they are receiving quality care from the moment of admission to the moment of discharge. In a world where a picture is worth a thousands words, look at yourself as a nurse and ask…”What image am I painting?”

About the author:

Kendall Green, BSN, RN is a registered nurse living in Augusta, Georgia, where she works in both a medical-surgical unit and transplant unit. Kendall is an insatiable learner of all things nursing and health, and she makes it a priority to become very involved in the facility at which she works.