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Clothes make the.....

Posted Jan 27 2009 7:12pm

I'm fat and sassy, holding a nice, big paycheck for a week's worth of work. Barely a week into this job, I've already encountered my first hurdle. The personalities of the Elementary School staff. I expected this.

After the first couple of days at the elementary school, the principal took me aside to see how things were going, and to let me know that the name badge wasn't enough identification of my role while I was on school grounds. I figured something like this was coming, and being familiar with what OSHA has to say on this matter, I suggested I wear either scrubs, or street clothes with a white lab-coat. He (also being familiar with said regulations) said that would be just fine. He let me know that If I ran into any difficulty to let him know right away, and not let the fact that I'm technically outside of their hierarchy dissuade me from seeking his council. I was comforted by this, even though that was what I was expecting to do anyway.

The first two days, I wore the same brilliant set of blue scrubs that I wear to job interviews, washing them in the wee hours of the morning before my next shift. Yesterday, I went out and bought a lab coat at our local uniform shop. It was only 18 dollars, a little thin, with seams bristling with threads on the inside, but with plenty of pocket-room.

It was Halloween for the pre-schoolers, since they have a four-day schoolweek. I pushed my client along in his chair, he was one of two students whose parents elected not to costume them for school. As I pushed the kid's chair on my way back from gym, some school employee I had not met looked at my white coat and the pediatric stethoscope draped around my neck and said "Oh, look, he's dressed like a doctor!" As neutrally as I could, I stared at her levelly and said "I'm a registered nurse".

"Oh! Shouldn't you have one of those little hats then?"

I kept walking and pushing.

Before I had even returned to my client's home, someone from the school called my client's mother, telling her that I must only wear scrubs while in the classroom, in direct opposition to what the Principal and I had discussed earlier. This stressed out the client's mother considerably, since she was put in the position of having to relay information from the school to myself.

Something stank about this right away. Had something changed since I spoke to the principal? If so, what's the rationale behind preferring scrubs over a labcoat? Furthermore, who's calling up my client's mother to give her these kinds of instructions instead of simply telling them to me themselves? The mother's lips were sealed, saying she didn't want to "get involved". Understandable, she shouldn't have been called about this in the first place. Only now that I sit down to write this have I started to wonder if she was called at all.

When I told the client's mother I was going to call the principal and sort this out with him directly, she immediately got defensive, saying that doing so would be "very unprofessional". She explained that all of her nurses in the past wore scrubs. As impressed as I was with her dedication and knowledge in the beginning, her petulance and lack of self-awareness were starting to grate on me a bit. I patiently explained to her that lots of nurses in the hospital wear professional attire under a white lab coat. She continued to protest, saying that nurses "always" wear scrubs. I told her that, in fact, very few of the nurses I saw in the hospital wore scrubs.

"Oh yeah? Which hospitals?". Oh boy. I recited the list of facilities I had worked on over the past two years. She's only familiar with pediatric units, which might explain things somewhat, I didn't think to mention this, I was too taken aback with her sudden hostility.

"Do you have a problem with how I'm dressed right now?" I'm wearing a nice sweater, black pants, and $270 dollar shoes. I'm confident pedia-sure comes out in the wash just fine.

"No...as long as you keep wearing a belt. Can't have your pants around your knees." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I haven't once worn a belt in her presence and she hasn't noticed. I wear pants that -fit-.

She kept on the defense, saying that she already called my agency and they had scrubs they could give me. She said her concern was that I would be dismissed by the school if I didn't conform to their dress guidelines. I assured her that I had already discussed this with the Principal. I pointed out that I was dressed almost exactly the same as the School Nurse.


So anyway, I left a message with the principals office and headed over to the retirement community to do some HR orientation. I walked through the front doors about 10 minutes late, dashingly attired in a gray sweater, black pants, $270 shoes and a white lab coat. I felt so at home there! I had nice relaxed conversations with people with decades of experience at what they do. As it happens, many of the nurses at the facility practice reiki alongside technologically complex wound-care.

My intake orientation took place in a small office off the hallway of an elegant five-star dining area, where a medieval fair was taking place for the benefit of the residents. There was a palm-reader, gourmet food and a fully stocked bar in the hallway. The HR representative introduced me to some of the administrators and nurses who wandered by, wearing festive period clothing.

After I was done there, I got a short walking tour and was deposited with the woman who schedules the shifts. She's an LPN, and going to a community college in the area for her RN. She scheduled me for three orientation shifts (four hours each) next week, followed by a full 12-hour orientation shift on the weekend (what will be my regular shift). During this process I learned that I'm being hired as a nurse manager, with a very nice rate of pay.

Now, I realize to some extent that I'm getting put in this position because there's a couple of LPNs with 20+ years of experience each (one of which is usually charge nurse) who are really running the show, but the law (or insurance, whatever) requires there to be an RN in the facility. Usually the Director of Nursing fulfills this function, but they need someone on certain shifts so people can fulfill family obligations or whatever.

That's not going to stop me from getting everything I can out of this job, though. They told me I'll get the chance to do lots of wound-care, EKGs, venipuncture, all sorts of fun stuff I was afraid I'd miss by not getting into Med/Surg. Everyone there is super nice, so what if they just want me around because I'm someone who won't make waves and do their best to get along with everybody? I'm sure it won't be without it's hazards, but I'm excited to be there.


The similarity between these two different situations (the elementary school and the retirement community) is that the only other Males around are administrative types.


The elementary school principal called me back as I was strolling the lushly carpeted hallways of the health center in the retirement community. He told me that yes, of course, the lab coat and street clothes are just fine, and that yes, the four adults involved in that classroom said that this was just fine. Funny, that. When I told him the client's mother wouldn't tell me who called her, he lamented the uselessness of that decision. I sympathized with him, and I'm sure at some point we had thought bubbles floating over our head saying "...women".

Either someone at the school decided to make an end-run around the Principal to harass my client's mother directly, or the client's mother is making this up for reasons that aren't clear to me.

This should be interesting.

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