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The Purpose of Color-Coded Scrubs

The Purpose of Color-Coded Scrubs

Scrubs Magazine

January 31, 2011

Everyone knows that scrubs are the official “uniform” of nurses. But many healthcare organizations also have their own rules about who gets to wear which hue. These color-coding standards vary from hospital to hospital. Some employers have more than half a dozen different colors in their coding system. Fortunately, most of the typically assigned shades are readily available. For example, ceil blue unisex tops and drawstring pants are a very common choice for hospital dress codes. Navy, white, burgundy and black are other typical options that you’ll never have trouble finding in stock.

Why the Code?

The goal of color coding is simple. It offers a sort of visual shorthand that lets you differentiate one specialty or department from another. On the surface, it seems like this would make it easier to figure out who’s supposed to be doing what.

However, this strategy doesn’t always work as planned. In the experience of nurses like Brenda Britt, color rules are restrictive and pointless: “Navy blue for nurses and green for nurses’ aides…it’s ugly! Everybody else gets to wear whatever colors they want. The patients still don’t know who the nurses are.” Kim Ostrander asks this question: “Do the patients know what the colors mean? Does the rest of your own hospital staff know the color code?” Too often, the answer seems to be no.

However, color coding can serve a useful function if everyone makes an effort to communicate effectively. Angel Kirkbride finds that adhering to the dress code at her hospital is actually helpful: “I think it’s important to stand out. Before, patients were confusing PCAs and nurses. Now, we inform them from the get-go that RNs wear navy and blue…and I don’t have to worry about deciding what to wear!” A bright blue top can be particularly eye-catching and feminine when it includes details like piped princess seams to show off curves.

Next: Why Nurses Like Having Assigned Colors >>

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