August 15, 2005, 10:48 pm

Cap-tivated!

cherryamesseniornurseTruth be told, I became a nurse so that I could wear THE CAP!

Oh, how I wanted that cap.

I would make one out of paper and pin it to my head, posing in front of the bathroom mirror with a towel around my shoulders for my cape.

I never did have a cape, but I definitely wore that little piece of starched white fabric. Our caps had green and gold ribbons arching across the top. I may have been your average Jane, but I felt like Miss America when it was on my head.

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Of course, I graduated in 1978 (at the ripe old age of 20!), and with the expansion of nursing care came the end of the cap-wearing tradition.

I wore mine for about 6 months. Years of nursing fantasies, based in the 1940s world of Cherry Ames, were quickly supplanted by the reality of the profession.

My cap was the first casualty.

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Fast forward to 2000.

I was working night shift in an emergency department when my colleagues and I decided to celebrate National Nurses’ Day by wearing classic white uniforms with our caps!

Yeah, baby!

Now, the last time I had actually seen my cap had been in 1979, carefully preserved in a halo of dust under the front seat of an old green Volkswagon bug I no longer owned.

Where on earth would I find another one – specifically one that looked like my nursing school cap. I mean, you can’t just wear any cap, you have to wear your school cap!

I was determined to find it.

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I found it.

At a uniform shop located in a tiny trailer in a small parking lot in the next town sat an exact replica of my cap.

I carefully glued the forest green and gold grograin ribbons to the top, pinned the cap to my head and posed in front of the bathroom mirror. Only this time I didn’t wear a towel for a cape; it was the 21st century, after all, and I was more like a middle-aged Mrs. America.

The old thrill was still there.

The next night we faced the patients in traditional white uniforms with caps carefully anchored.

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One younger doctor commented that I looked like his mother did when she was a nurse (uh….thanks?) and another revealed that he always had a fetish for women in white (o……kay).

The older docs loved it. The PM shift made fun of us (Nancy Nurse? Excuse me, my name is Ames…..Cherry Ames…..).

But, the patients! The patients respected us!

Their behavior was astounding. They spoke to us in lower tones. They spoke to us respectfully. They addressed us as “Nurse” and not “hey you” or “uh…where’s the doc?”

The age of the patient didn’t matter, even teenagers who probably never even knew that RNs wore caps mentioned them. The change in demeanor was so dramatic from our normal experience that I thought perhaps the nursing staff was acting differently while wearing the caps.

I decided to try an experiment and perhaps write a column on our experiences.

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While my colleagues went back to their normal scrub uniforms, I worked in white, with my cap for a week.

We noticed that I was the go-to person if the patients had a question because I was easily identifiable as a nurse. The deferential attitude of the patients persisted.

I then went back to wearing whatever color scrubs I wanted, but always with the cap. In fact, I got so used to having it on that I would forget I was wearing it, so there was no impact on my behavior by this time.

The patient behavior did not change! I was treated differently when I wore the cap; the patients respected what the cap stood for.

I was floored.

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Patients are bombarded with so many different personnel when they are in the ER, it’s often hard to keep track of who is a nurse vs. a lab tech vs. a housekeeper vs. the doctor.

Wearing a nursing cap gave my patients an anchor, a visual reminder of who I was and what my responsibilities were. However increasing number of male nurses entering the profession render nursing caps inappropriate. They say caps were a magnet for infection. They would get pulled off in the ICU. Caps weren’t practical.

Of course, all that is true.

But I sure loved wearing it.

(Addendum: I continued to wear the cap until I changed jobs soon after the experiment. The cap again found its way under the front seat, this time of my Saturn. And the column I never wrote? It turned into a blog!)

15 Comments

  • kenju
    kenju

    August 16, 2005 at 6:35 am

    Cherry Ames was one of my favorite books at about age 10-12, I think. I once played a nurse in a school play, and I had to borrow a uniform and cap from a nurse friend of the family. I loved being in that uniform and wearing white hose. The shoes were awful back then, but the caps were nice. I think they should still be worn, for all the good reasons you mentioned.


  • Gypsybobocowgirl
    Gypsybobocowgirl

    August 16, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    I never even had a cap. We wore white in nursing school with our ugly yellow aprons (a color that actually looked good on me). Our hospital is doing a study with a patch to identify RN’s–there is research out there to support all of your theories. Add a couple of references and you have something to publish!


  • […] As I posted Jodi’s submission, I started thinking about my early blog days, meaning last August, when I started this whole idea of writing my thoughts down for posterity. And so in keep with my obsession with my nursing cap, I present one of my very first posts, entitled Cap-tivated! […]


  • Nicole
    Nicole

    June 22, 2006 at 8:12 am

    Awesome post!
    I wonder what I would look like with a cap? hmmmm.


  • Intelinurse2b
    Intelinurse2b

    July 3, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    I am a nursing student that is in awe of the white nursing cap. Our college has a pinning ceremony at graduation, but oh how I would it to be a traditional capping ceremony. In school we have studied the power of authority a nurse has, I guess it was proven in your experiment. I collect vintage red cross posters, the ones I like best are the nurses crowned with a crisp white cap!


  • Georgann
    Georgann

    July 7, 2006 at 9:46 pm

    Kim, just found your blog tonight and went to this archived post of yours. I too tried the same experiment three years ago with the same results. I endured the laughing insults of my co-workers. But I also was humbled by the very positive, respectful comments from my patients and their families. I wore my flying nun cap with pride. The first time I wore it to the floor, my stomach was churning. I wanted to find a corner and hide for just a moment. One nurse said to me…..”Oh God, please don’t start something!” hehehehe….I’m always up to something. Anyway, thank you for posting your wonderful blog, I’m bookmarking it so I can visit it often. Georgann


  • Cheryl
    Cheryl

    August 1, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    I work on a Med Surg floor of a small rural hospital. About 9 months or so ago our new CEO who was shaking and rattling things around had made a comment that our floor would never have to worry about staffing matrixes if all the nurses would wear white and caps. So for the first day of the Nurse’s Week we all had on white scrubs and paper white nurse caps. We called the CEO and asked him to come to the floor for an important meeting. When he stepped into the nurse’s station and saw all of the nursing staff in white his eyes grew as big as pizzas and he just laughed and told the head nurse “Touche'” Probably because we didn’t wear the caps all day there weren’t any report of the patients treating us differently.

    However, we do have one older nurse on the unit who wears her cap each and every shift. I will have to ask her if she feels that she is given more respect from the patients and families.

    I like to wear a white coat/jacket with my scrubs and I always wear my RN pin. It is small, but it does distinguish me from the other nurses and from housekeeping and the CNAs.


  • Rob
    Rob

    December 10, 2006 at 5:44 am

    Thank you for giving me a reason to not be annoyed about having to wear my cap at my pinning ceremony. I think if we had worn it during clinical’s it would of been better, I would of been used to it. The thought of only having to wear it and look different for one hour was driving me crazy


  • […] Okay, go ahead and laugh if you want to, but I did this experiment chronicled in one of my first posts to Emergiblog. […]


  • PAINTHORSE
    PAINTHORSE

    January 10, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    I WAS DELIGHTED TO READ YOUR BLOG………. SEVERAL MONTHS AGO………. I DECIDED TO GO BACK TO ALL WHITE……. AND THE NOTICE AND RESPECT FROM FAMILY AND PATIENTS WAS OVERWHELMING…….. MY SCHOOL CAP, UNFORTUNATLY WENT BY THE WAY OF MY DIPLOMA SCHOOL……. BUT THANK GOODNESS FOR KAY’S CAP… FOR CLOSE RUNNER UP………

    ANOTHER NURSE IN OUR HOSPITAL HAS FOLLOWED SUIT…………. THANKS FOR THE VENUE


  • Karen
    Karen

    April 17, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you so much for the blog. I am getting ready to graduate from RN school on May 17th. Our pinning ceremony is coming up and we tried to vote for everyone to wear a cap but it was defeated. I think I am going to get one as a gift for a few of my close classmates and copy the blog with the gift. Thank you. You are an inspiration….


  • Susan Foster
    Susan Foster

    November 6, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Can you give me tips on how to do my long straight hair with our vintage caps? I have to wear off my shoulders like on the floor, but I have no idea how to make it all look pretty! the hat is really bit on my small head too.


  • Catherine
    Catherine

    January 6, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Susan, when I was a nurse and wore a cap, many years ago, I had long hair. I put it in a pony tail and then clipped it up with a barrette, then put the cap over the clipped part. Although the cap was small it covered the clipped part. (The caps got smaller and smaller and then disappeared; a good nurse’s cap should fit your head so that it isn’t really that much of a problem to keep it on.) Many of the older caps were also washable, so a lot of the criticisms of the cap are not fair. No, they are no more a magnet for germs than anything else, including your hair, your uniform, or YOUR HANDS; they don’t constantly fall off; and they should not be uncomfortable. I say, BRING BACK THE CAP!


  • Amber
    Amber

    March 1, 2010 at 12:44 am

    I am 35, soon to graduate from RN school (in June) and the daughter of a former RN who was capped upon graduation. Our school does pinning at graduation, but I for one really wish we had the capping ceremony as well. My mother not only was capped, but she had the gorgeous navy wool cape lined in red, too. Three quarters of our graduating class refused to consider the cap (nor did they want to wear white dresses for pinning), so needless to say, we will not be having the capping ceremony. I, however, will be wearing the traditional cap in my formal pictures. If mom can find her cape, I’ll wear it as well, I dont care if it will be in the middle of summer.

    I am a firm believer that nurses should wear whites (and caps). It seems everyone in the hospital/medical setting nowadays wears scrubs. Yes, I understand the logic and practicality of scrubs, however, I remember the awe I felt growing up when I would visit mom at work and see all the nurses attired in their whites. It was so professional looking. As for the cap… policemen, firefighters, the military…they all have some type of headwear that designates what they are. So do nurses. Let’s bring back the whites and the caps!!!!


  • Renee Porter
    Renee Porter

    March 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I have been a nurse for 18 yrs. I graduated with a BSN and we only used the cap for our graduation pictures but did the pinning ceremony. I have worked in a few different fields of nursing and am currently a school nurse in Virgina. One of the kindergarten teachers showed her class a picture of a nurse dressed in all white with the cap and the students giggled and now do not think I am a nurse. For a career day here at the school I am planning on wearing the tradtional whites and was looking to purchase a cap, which is how I came about this blog. I am a firm believer that the uniform sets us apart as nurses. It distinguishes our profession and in turn represents professionalism. I love the new scrubs that are available out there but am a traditionalist in so many ways I say bring the whites, cap and cape back! Thank you for this blog!
    Renee


About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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