Nurses Week is fast approaching. I am steeling myself mentally for the steady drizzle of syrupy tributes from various health care apparatchiks and functionaries, who will inevitably make some reference to nurses as “angels” and the “beating heart of health care” or some such tripe. I have yet to see an article this year illustrated with a teddy bear dressed up as a nurse, but it is early days yet. A reminder: if anyone approaches you with such a teddy bear in recognition of Nurses Week, do not look the bear in the eye, but instead beat it against a hard surface till the stuffing flies out, or the honour of the nursing profession is restored, whichever comes first
I was put in mind of all of this reading some of Nurse Keith’s old blog entries over at Digital Doorway. I came across this post, which pretty well sums up my feelings about the association of teddy bears and angels with nursing, and also their use in scrubs. Nurse Keith wrote:
Somewhere along the line, the “angels of mercy” moniker became attached to nurses as a group. Granted, in the early days of nursing, nurses’ ability to act autonomously was extremely limited, and we were, by and large, the handmaidens of deified doctors. However, as much as that regrettable history has largely changed, the image of the nurse as angel unfortunately persists quite widely in our culture and websites galore promote gifts and baubles that continue to diminish nurses’ professionalism. Images such as this one drive home the point: nurses are childlike individuals with starched white hats who love teddy-bears. Adding insult to injury, nurses can actually be depicted as winged angel/teddy-bears, further enforcing the infantilization (and deprofessionalization) of our profession. Would doctors allow themselves to be thus represented to the public?
Rather than being perceived as cherubic angels and childlike creatures, this writer feels that being perceived as the valuable and skilled professionals who we truly are would allow the public to have a much more accurate perception of what we do, and our importance to the care of millions.
[. . .]
Nurses’ uniforms have certainly changed over the years, and as scrubs have become the norm for nurses in most clinical settings, many companies have capitalized on the popularity of such utilitarian clothing. Now, designer scrubs covered with angels, teddy-bears (there they are again!), and any number of cartoon-like images adorn the hard-working bodies of nurses around the world. If nurses want to be taken seriously by the public—and by doctors and other professionals—how does the wearing of such (in my opinion) unprofessional clothing help our cause?
Picture this: a team meeting occurs midday to discuss a patient on the adult oncology floor. Present at the meeting: a medical resident, a medical student, the attending doctor, the oncologist, two unit nurses, a social worker and a respiratory therapist. Of all of the professionals in the room, who would possibly be wearing pink scrubs covered with teddy-bears and hearts, and a pin on her chest saying “Doctors Cure, Nurses Care”? And what message does this convey about the nurse’s self-image and how the other professionals present in the meeting should perceive him or her?
Well exactly. Imagine you’re dressed in an angel-motif scrub top, and you’re trying to give discharge instructions to a patient. Do you really think the patient is going to take you seriously? Really? Or you’re trying to get the physician to order more narcotic analgesia dressed in deep rose pink scrubs, a colour, I admit, which makes me do the inward cringe every time I see a nurse wearing it. Does that deep rose pink convey to the world the exact amount of professionalism and intelligence nurses believe they possess?
I guess I am wondering if there anyone out there willing to defend the whole nurse/teddy bear/angel thing, or even say three cheers for teddy bear scrubs or even frilly “feminine” scrubs?