The image of a nurse

nurse-1160810_640I grew up in a culture where being doctors, lawyers, and business managers was the goal – so I never gave being a nurse a second thought. However, as you can see, this has clearly changed. My image of what a nurse is has been torn apart and stitched back together through the many experiences that I have had since the starting my application to Salford. I have been fortunate to be in good health throughout my life, so I rarely went into hospital. So the only interaction with nurses I have had that I can remember was with the school nurse – a slightly stocky lady that seemed to live in the nursing office, who always seemed very skeptical. Or, they were the shadow in the background of popular TV shows who’s sole job was to obey the physicians or be a plot device.

But, as I found out recently, I was not the only one to have this idea of what a nurse was. Apparently, the media shapes our view of nurses a great deal more than you would expect, propagating the various stereotypes that can easily be associated with the nursing profession. Sandy and Harry Summers have done a very interesting blog series about the image of nursing that I suggest you have a look at, as they take each stereotype in turn. However, I thought I would look more specifically at the physical appearance that nurses are expected to have.

Before applying to be a nurse, I had a side cut and red (or purple or blueish black) hair and I would occasionally go to town with bright blue contact lenses and a bright purple wig. Yet, under the suggestion of family and friends – “to blend in, and have a higher chance of getting accepted to the course” – I grew out my hair, and saw my natural hair colour for the first time in years. And, they weren’t completely wrong.

The university has a uniform policy that you must adhere to, and each trust has their own too. During one of my lectures, we discussed the physical appearance nurses had to maintain according to the policies, and how subjective the language could be. The University policy (found on our Blackboard page) is fairly straight forwards, with little room for  misinterpretation. For the entire policy, health and safety, infection control, and professional appearance are the main reasons behind it. When I compared the uniform policy for  the Central Manchester Foundation Trust (CMFT), and that of the University of Salford, one article that is noted in the University policy that is not in the CMFT policy is acceptable hair colour (and consequently hair tie colour, although both agree they must be plain without adornment).

“Students should have a natural hair colour; this must be borne in mind if the hair is dyed or coloured.”

The reasoning, I presume, behind it is that the public may not see a nurse with brightly dyed hair as professional. However, walking around Manchester city centre, I get the feeling that natural hair colours are the minority!

This policy point seems to be based purely on what is expected of a nurse, to be unoffensive; approachable; trustworthy. I mean, someone with pink hair must be a party animal and irresponsible, right? But that would be judging a book by it’s cover – something we are all taught not to do from a young age. Although, I do understand the rationale that was made during induction – “you don’t know if you will come across a patient with a phobia or mental health illness that can be triggered by bright hair colours.” If that is the case, why is it not included in all trust policies? And why is it not true for other health professionals (I had the pleasure of meeting a junior doctor with amazing deep purple

Where do you draw the line?

hair), are they not just as liable to interact with these patients ? When we were presented the uniform policy during induction, there was some confusion as the policy stated natural hair colours only, yet the lecturer said to “just be objective” about it, stating that fire-engine red was unacceptable but darker shades would be okay. However, you cannot underestimate the power of first impressions, so it strongly depends on the person across from you and their upbringing and beliefs.

I have been told (although I am unable to find it) that the Bolton Trust uniform policy states that nurses may not have”extreme haircuts”, which I assume is for the same reasons. Yet “extreme” seems to be very subjective of a term. Is a side-cut extreme? How about a male nurse with long hair (yet following uniform policy about tying it up). A female nurse who participated in”brave the shave“, would she be risking breaching uniform policy for taking part in a charity event or would that be seen as exempt due to circumstances?

During that lecture, we were told a couple of anecdotes around uniforms. One paediatric nurse, prior to the introduction of hair colour regulations at the trust, had bright red hair and worked with colleagues in pre-admission. They would visit the children at home, in their scrubs (or “pajamas”, as they are affectionately known) to explain the procedure to both them and the parents. This nurse found that, once in hospital, the children would recognise him thanks to his bright red hair and pajamas. They would feel as if they knew someone there, and were significantly more at ease. Another nurse, who’s uniform policy stated that only tan tights should be worn with a dress uniform, was told by a manager to change immediately as she was wearing black tights instead. Yet, at no point during these two instances was their skill called into question due to their appearance.


I think it all comes down to the professional image, and what the public expect of nurses. So I leave this question to you: how much value do you place professional appearance, and what do you consider to be professional?

Personally, I’d love a nurse with multicoloured hair – it would give me a great ice breaker!



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