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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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    markinson

    about 3 years ago

    70 comments

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    markinson

    about 3 years ago

    70 comments

    I agree with your opinion and fully support it, you have been a great contributor and I always come to your blog as I know you always share the best of your information.
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  • Photo_user_blank_big

    scribenurse

    over 3 years ago

    2 comments

    I think we have enough on our minds as nurses. Having to remember what color a persons uniform is is absurd. What aare name tags for? and don't you work with these people on a regular basis. Of course I'm still lost on wh nurses are wearing the same uniforms as prisoners, gardners, et al.

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    vickielee1970

    over 3 years ago

    808 comments

    I have to wear all white scrubs, all the Rn's and Lpn's have to wear white where I work. The CNA's wear royal blue, the kitchen staff purple and housekeeping teal. And that pop of color they mentioned in the article, nope, you may only wear white under your scrub top no matter which color you are assigned to wear in scrubs.

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    mlea99

    over 3 years ago

    2 comments

    I don't understand why scrubs seems to be such a hot topic on the site. You are always going to have people who agree and disagree on every subject in medicine and life. If your employer has a color-coded scrub system and you don't like it. Find a different employer. That's the beauty of working in America. You don't have to ask anyone's permission to change jobs. Not yet anyway. I love the color-coded system when it makes sense. With so many color choices, there is absolutely no reason why 5 different departments should have colors that are the same hue or family. No wonder patients get confused. So if you are going to have a color-coded system, choose colors that are separated. One color per department.

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    beth75kiss

    over 3 years ago

    26 comments

    My organization went with color-coding a couple years ago, and it would work great- you can tell who the LPN's are since they're the only workers not wearing a shade of blue, it seems. Many patients still comment on how they miss the different scrubs and how they provided a little stimulation in their sterile hospital stay. But trying to explain who's who by color is still difficult- RNs wear cobalt blue, CNAs wear navy, radiology wears light blue, resp. therapy wears a color similar to RNs but a shade off... and the patients still get nurses and doctors and aids confused. But it does make getting dressed for work simple.

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