Why nurses don't want to be identified in public?

by Mully 26,776 Views | 86 Comments

This is a true, dramatized story to help highlight something important I learned in my first year of nursing. I remember hearing nurses tell stories about being in the public and not wanting anyone to know that they are a nurse. I always thought that was strange, because I've always been so proud of being an RN. But maybe things have changed.

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    Why nurses don't want to be identified in public?

    It's funny.

    I remember hearing nurses tell stories about being in the public and not wanting anyone to know that they are a nurse. I always thought that was strange, because I've always been so proud of being an RN. Throughout nursing school, I liked the idea of some stranger asking me for medical advice, and being able to bless them with my expertise on the subject. Even as a new grad, I loved to show off my new found knowledge of all things human body. I am now officially no longer a new grad, although I'm still a new nurse. I've just finished up a little over my first year of nursing in a busy step-down unit at my local hospital. It's funny how much one year can change you...

    Having just gotten off the last long 12 hour night shift of another long stretch of days, I decided to stop at my favorite hometown breakfast joint for a perfectly delicious Belgian waffle adorned with sliced strawberries and just the right dollop of whipped cream - yum. Talk about unwinding. There is nothing like slaving over patients all night only to gorge on some award winning breakfast and then slip quickly into a coma afterward. I took my normal seat at the breakfast bar and stared day-dreamily into, and almost through, the wall, until my server brought me my water and asked what I'd be having.

    "The usual" will actually order me a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy complete with a side of wheat toast, so this time I had to specifically tell her what I wanted. You've gotta switch it up every now and again.

    My eyes, as if in a cardinal fields of gaze test, subconsciously followed the waitress as she went to the order window, ripped off my order slip, and then walked back to the bar to pour the man who was sitting near me a cup of coffee.

    "How are you doing?" She asked him as she poured.

    Casually, he responds "I'm okay. Yeah, I'm just headed up to see my mother at the hospital shortly. She's getting some X-ray done, cause she's got lung cancer."

    Mildly stunned at the man's suddenly sobering retort to what seemed like just a simple greeting, I began collecting bits of information to attempt to analyze the situation.

    1. Did this man know the waitress, thereby being contextually appropriate in his depressing update on his mother's condition?

    - Based on some body language cues and the lack of eye contact, I don't think so. These waitresses know all of their regulars by name, and she didn't address him as such.

    2. Did the waitress know his mother, somehow then making his comment relevant?
    - It would stand to reason if the answer to question 1 is no, then this one's answer is no as well.

    3. If they truly did just meet and their relationship is strictly waitress/patron, then how will the waitress respond to this blunt, and relatively out-of-place, oddly intimate retort?

    I looked up to see what she'd say. She had already had her back turned by the time he finished saying it, and was hastily preparing other people's breakfast items. It dawned on me that she may not have heard him.

    This is when it happened. A flash of fear fell over my body as I realized that I was the only one looking at him, and at the same time, obviously rocking my scrubs and other medical items including a huge name badge with the enormous initials "R.N." on it. "No!" I thought to myself. "He's going to continue the conversation with... ME!"

    Visions rush my head of me obligatorily making polite, uninterrupted eye contact as he shells out his sad story - meanwhile my waffle rapidly cools in front of me like an arctic sun patient. He'll ask me an obnoxiously impossible question like "How long do patients like my mother usually live?" and I'll be forced to deflect and ask him more about her disease which he'll know nothing of the specifics. I'll ask what they're doing with her today. He'll be unsure. I'll offer him some vaguely hopeful cliche like, "Well, you never know..." in regards to her condition which means nothing if you actually think about it. We'll get nowhere. I'll apologize for his troubles. He'll thank me. I'll then be socially permitted to pick at my therapeutically hypothermic breakfast, all while awkwardly uncertain if the conversation is truly over or not.

    In a desperate attempt to avoid this catastrophe, I immediately turn my head to the empty counter directly in front of me. A pause.

    The waitress, finally finishing the task she was conducting, turned around and simply responded, "Awww, that's too bad," before delivering her goods to another table.

    And just like that, it was over.

    And just like that, it dawned on me why those nurses didn't want to be identified as such in the general public. All at once, I felt a little guilty, and a little great. I felt as if I had grown up! What happened to me? The old me would have probably gone all Nightingale on him to try to heal his hurting heart STAT. I realized however, that there is maturity in recognizing that this was neither the time nor place to attempt this discussion. I knew what would happen. He would go to the hospital, and if he had a decent nurse, he'd get the comforting he may or may not need. He'd get his questions answered factually and appropriately. He'd get listened to. He'd do it the right way, and it would work, all without me needing to be involved.

    I'll soon be starting a new position in the Surgical/Trauma ICU at a huge level 1 trauma center in another city. With any transition, it calls for some reflection on where you've come from, and hopes for where you'd like to go. I've learned a lot over the past year. I've learned that there's a vast amount of information that I don't know, and in turn, to be humble. I've learned not to care so much about people's opinions, or whether or not people are nice to me. "Screw 'em," I occasionally remind myself. I've learned to respectfully tell it how it is, and how to respectfully stand up for those who need it. And among other things, I've learned not to identify myself as a nurse when I'm outside of the hospital unless absolutely necessary. I wonder what I'll learn next year.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jul 26, '13
    Lev <3, HailzOwn, DemosthenesRN, and 25 others like this.
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  3. About Mully

    Mully joined Nov '10. Mully has 'A few' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'SICU'. Posts: 225 Likes: 726; Learn more about Mully by visiting their allnursesPage

    86 Comments so far...

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    Great story. And that, folks, is why you should never wear your ID badge away from the workplace. I'm also sort of queasy about the idea of wearing work-exposed scrubs into a public place such as grocery store or eatery - - but probably that's just me.
    havehope, Sammie7, lamazeteacher, and 12 others like this.
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    Quote from HouTx
    Great story. And that, folks, is why you should never wear your ID badge away from the workplace. I'm also sort of queasy about the idea of wearing work-exposed scrubs into a public place such as grocery store or eatery - - but probably that's just me.
    Excellent story and I appreciate you sharing the perspective of a new nurse.

    I also agree with HouTx, I was surprised that you were wearing your scrubs to breakfast. Most nurses I know do not wear their scrubs in public but either go directly home or change before leaving the hospital. One hospital in my town actually requires that nurses wear street clothes in and only use hospital laundered scrubs on all floors (the other hospital only requires this for surgical and OB nurses). Definitely take off your badge in the future and you won't have to worry so much about someone possibly asking you a question but also not wearing the scrubs will help as well.
    lamazeteacher and herring_RN like this.
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    You're a great writer and I enjoyed your story. My heart does go out to that poor guy though, cancer freaking sucks!! (
    I don't think its a big deal that you wore your scrubs out to breakfast. What are you to do if they don't provide you a place to change and you're hungry on the way home. LOL

    I guess the PP is right though, if you're that concerned about it you'll have to change in order to not be identified. Or at least take off your top and switch to a t shirt.

    As far as germs go--I'm not really a germ-a-phobe. If I took care of someone with C-Diff that day, maybe I'd go right home. Otherwise I just feel like germs are everywhere, what are ya gonna do. I wouldn't hug my (hypothetical) kids or husband in my work clothes but I don't see a big deal running into a store or grabbing some food. :-)


    Thanks for the article!!
    jalyc RN, LaRN, DizzyLizzyNurse, and 3 others like this.
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    I enjoyed your story.
    I avoid wearing my ID and scrubs outside of the hospital just for those similar reasons you and others have made.

    Keep writing.
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    Nicely written - I can relate.

    As a CNA, one of my tasks is to do pt. escort runs. Which means I get to wear my scrubs in public, plus name badge - and, yeah, early on I figured out that's going to make me target #1 for every medico-social situation out there. Sometimes it's heart wrenching (one woman chatted with me for a good 15 minutes about her friend who died in hospice), and sometimes it's amusing (the time a woman mistook CNA for CRNA, and I politely explained some of the differences between the two; not the least of which is the $140K/year salary difference). So long as I'm on the clock I'm tolerant of it, but for the most part I've learned not to advertise the fact that I work in healthcare.

    Good read!

    ----- Dave
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    Quote from Bloomgirl118
    Excellent story and I appreciate you sharing the perspective of a new nurse.

    I also agree with HouTx, I was surprised that you were wearing your scrubs to breakfast. Most nurses I know do not wear their scrubs in public but either go directly home or change before leaving the hospital. One hospital in my town actually requires that nurses wear street clothes in and only use hospital laundered scrubs on all floors (the other hospital only requires this for surgical and OB nurses). Definitely take off your badge in the future and you won't have to worry so much about someone possibly asking you a question but also not wearing the scrubs will help as well.

    If I wanted a big plate of Belgian waffles after a night shift, I'd wear my nasty old scrubs out to eat. There's a big difference between stopping on the way home to eat breakfast (at one of the numerous restaurants I pass) and then going home to sleep versus going home, changing clothes and then going back out into the sunshine and driving fifteen or more minutes to get somewhere to have breakfast. Unless it's my "day off", I'm not going to go out again once I go home. I'd have to make do with whatever is in the fridge. If I'm craving Belgian Waffles, leftover roast beef isn't going to do it.

    It's all well and good to take off your name badge -- which I am in favor of, by the way -- but when you're wearing scrubs adorned with the name of your hospital and the legend "Registered Nurse", it's kind of hard to avoid being recognized as a nurse. Where I live, it "cools down" to 85 or so at night, so wearing a jacket over the scrubs isn't an option, either.
    kcochrane, SE_BSN_RN, Blondenurse83, and 18 others like this.
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    Good story. Now you see why we ask that student nurses don't criticize us until they have walked a few miles in our shoes. I try to never go out in scrubs, but sometimes you have to. And if a belgium waffle was waiting for me all I can say is get out of my way.
    LeeLeeTheGPN, chevyv, LovedRN, and 9 others like this.
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    Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading your story.

    I, too, only wear my badge at work. But on the scrubs thing, if I were coming off a stretch of 12 hour nocs and wanted a belgian waffle on my way home to collapse, I'd do it.
    SE_BSN_RN, LeeLeeTheGPN, sapphire18, and 2 others like this.
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    I liked your story! I am still at the wiggly puppy stage of being a nursing student. I have filed this for the future lol! Must also remind kids not to blurt out, "Mom's a nurse!" Before I even get there
    SE_BSN_RN, sisilia, CountyRat, and 3 others like this.


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