April 21, 2007, 10:04 am

Red Light, Green Light


Esteemed colleagues, fellow nurses and distinguished readers,

Allow me to introduce you to the “Yacker Tracker”!

This cute little mechanical advice was designed for use in a classroom.

You know, the place where children learn the difference between their “inside” and “outside” voice?

Green means, “very good, you aren’t too loud!”.

Yellow means, “Uh oh…you’re a bit on the noisy side!”

Red means you’ve hit the decible level of a Led Zeppelin concert, thereby triggering an alarm that is certain to bring the conversation of school children to a screeching halt.

This classroom gadget is found wherever fine goods are sold to elementary school teachers.



Guess where else you can find this machine for keeping children in line?

In my emergency department and every other nursing station in my hospital.

Not discreetly placed about the facility, but mounted on the walls!

Here we have a group of emergency department nurses demonstrating the actual appliance.

Note the look of shock as our cute little staff members realize they have entered the yellow zone.

Observe the JCAHO-mandated covering of the mouth to prevent any further vocalizations, thereby reducing the noise at the nursing station.

“Stop the yakking!”

Because we all know that emergency departments are supposed to be nice and quiet, right boys and girls?

And professional men and women do tend to yak, don’t they?



So…let’s insult them by installing insulting toys on the walls to keep them from yakking!


We wouldn’t want to provide an educational opportunity by providing data from, oh, evidence-based studies that show the effect of noise in the environment so that as professionals, appropriate behavior modifications can be made.

Why, that would be fighting fair and we all know bullies don’t do that!

Silly nurses!

All they deserve is a cutesy toy that is oh, so professional looking to patients and visitors!



So boys and girls, always use your inside voice when you are inside the hospital!

And remember:

Don’t set off the red if your patient’s in bed,

If you set off the light you’ll give the patients a fright!

Especially at night!



I’m beginning to think I’m working at Pee Wee’s Playhouse Medical Center.

This would be hilarious if every word of it wasn’t true (except the JCAHO covering-of the-mouth. That is next year’s policy…).

Pretty soon we’ll have Chairy, Globey, Miss Yvonne and Billy Baloney on staff.

What’s next, the King of Cartoons pulling a night shift as an ER doc?

Having to ask “Mother, May I?” before you give a medication? (Oh, wait, that’s already happening…..)

So here’s to the head honchos, whoever they may be, who have shown so much faith in the professionalism of their nursing staff.

Maybe you can skip the cute little keychains this Nurses’s Week and take down these obnoxious road signs that make my colleagues and I feel like we are in preschool.

Or, keep on dumbing us down. Eventually you will get what you play for.


  • Nickie

    April 21, 2007 at 10:30 am

    That is one of the most absurd, demeaning things I’ve ever heard of, and believe me, I’ve seen and heard a lot. I never understand why managers/directors or what/whoever they are, don’t respect their employees. The nurses who’ve cared for me have always been wonderful, and as a patient, I felt they should be treated with respect.

  • AlisonH

    April 21, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Are you SERIOUS?!! But, but… ! Wow. And ditto what Nickie said. Maybe I could go knit an opaque cover for the one in your hospital. Wouldn’t want it to be cold, you know.

  • ERnursey

    April 21, 2007 at 11:43 am

    you have got to be kidding me. What other profession gets treated like that? At my ER that would accidentally get knocked to the floor (as many times as possible) and broken

  • MsMarlee

    April 21, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    This is so funny. In our ER we are being expected to wear little radio headsets (like sales people at The Gap) in an effort to keep the noise down. If we had these traffic lights in our ER, I’m afraid they’d be more helpful if used for patients to remind them that shouting.

  • Sophie

    April 21, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    I am glad to see that I am not the only one so very insulted by this. My hospital did this about a year ago, spent money putting the stop lights up, and showing us how they work (talk about being talked down to). Now, most of the stop lights are sitting on back counters, not working, out of batteries or just plain broken, and WOW! no one seems to want to figure out how to make them work again! They are cheaply made, and one ‘accidental’ brush can take care of the insult pretty easily- not that I would do that of course!

  • Sabra

    April 21, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Dear Lord, are they trying to run out the competent people?

  • laura

    April 21, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    we have these in all patients’ room’ in our nicu. i hate them although i am down with the reminders because of the affect of noise has on the brain development of sick, extremely premature infants. still i wish our boss would put one near the ward secretary’s desk so a certain w.s. would shut her yap or at least turn the volume down. ugh. her shrill, loud voice can be heard in all 4 patient care rooms in the unit even with the doors closed and of course she never stops talking.

  • Student Nurse Nancy

    April 22, 2007 at 8:26 am

    Are you FREAKING kidding me? What’s next, bringing in the Wiggles to teach us how to get along with a little song and dance? Good God Almighty, and they wonder why there’s a nursing shortage.

  • Meghan

    April 22, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of! Please don’t tell my hospital about it, or I have a feeling they might show up soon. Because everybody knows that patient satisfaction is miles and miles more important than employee satisfaction. I’m just sitting here wondering- would it go off everytime there is an over head announcement (“Nurse for bed 7, call on 8376”, “Dr. Smith to bed 8 stat” or “Code Blue ECU, Code Blue ECU”). It’s an ER! It’s noisy! We do everything we can to put our overnight boarders in quiet areas- but c’mon! I am outraged on your behalf Kim.

  • geena

    April 22, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I’m speechless. (GREEN!)

    We used to have a decibel reader on our unit. That got lost pretty quick. If these little stoplights showed up, I’d be truly sorry for the person who actually spent money buying and installing them because they would be widely despised.

    If I was a prospective employee of a hospital and I walked into a unit that had one of those things, I’d consider turning on my heel and walking right back out.

  • Candy

    April 22, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    I am shocked that Superior Medical Facility (SMF) is operating under the assumption that you are all imbeciles. Better you should all be mute, apparently. They might as well forget the Magnet idea…

    If you do go with the PeeWee ED, can I be Miss Yvonne? I know where you can find a terrific Cowboy Curtis just up the road a spell…

  • Nicole

    April 22, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    We got blessed with ours in the ICU, I think just before Christmas. It “goes off” when we open our trapper keeper books (that we keep our pt info in). It stayed on for about two weeks, maybe. We usually just shut it off anyway. Then last month, we got a GREAT article about a nursing supervisor who uses them in all of the hospital’s units…gag. Bide your time, sister. They will disappear. (Oh yeah…I definitely had one in my lunch room in grade school in the early 90s!)

  • Mother Jones RN

    April 22, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Are you kidding me? For crying out loud! Naughty, naughty nurses must be told to quiet down, so let’s send in the sound police! This is unreal. And I bet the hospital paid some consulting firm big bucks to come up with this brilliant plan.


  • Mother Jones RN

    April 22, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    OK, I just had a great idea. It has something to do with


  • tscd

    April 23, 2007 at 12:29 am

    I want one of those! It must be so great to work in pre-school with all those toys.

  • Sharon from NY

    April 23, 2007 at 6:41 am

    O M G ….. I would say MUCH more, but then I’m sure I’d be red-lighted! ( pssst… very quietly… I agree with Sabra….shhhhhhh…being very quiet….)

  • StudentNurseJack

    April 23, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    Boy Child’s teacher uses one of these during the particularly loud times in the school year, such as right now, when they’re already counting down days until summer vacation.

    Can we educate patients’ visitors how these little gems work? I get so irritated by the people that show up and decide it is time to PARTY! Woo-hoo! Or the ones who insist on having loud phone conversations that usually involve arguing, or the patients who won’t make a graceful exit during what should be their toddlers’ naptimes. It’s not bad enough nurses and techs keep the patients from getting good sleep – the visitors often are worse.

    Red light, Green light! Remember that game? Think of the fun you nurses could have in the hallways.

  • StudentNurseJack

    April 23, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    Sorry, that was supposed to be PARENTS who won’t leave when their kids are having naptime meltdowns, not PATIENTS.

    Speaking of tired…

  • Max E Nurse

    April 24, 2007 at 4:47 am

    WOW! I want one in the reception area to stop the back room gossip…
    Kim please tell me you are joking, and if not which (sitting in a quiet office and having never been in an emergency department) freak thought it was a good idea?
    Can you get some attention ASAP because your patient has gone blue, without sending the alarm crazy?
    (Not Mad Max though – too retro!)

  • neonazi

    November 3, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    All of you people need to get a grip and see things in a different light. Why don’t YOU try being the patient in such an overstimulating,terrifying enviornment in which you are totally lost and almost invisible!!
    While in the next bay the staff is talking about how drunk they got last night or who they went home with the night before! How HIGHSCHOOL is that! The only reason you are against it is because you know you are wrong and can’t take being scolded like a child. Well you know the old saying, “act like a child and you will get treated like one”. Can ya FEEL it???

  • hospemp

    November 16, 2007 at 8:48 am

    You are all getting so insulted, why do these insult you so? apparently there is a problem when patients complain about how all they hear are nurses discussing what they are having for dinner, etc. None of you are open to the fact that this may resolve some issues that PATIENTS have not administrators. You are all nurses, isn’t your first priority caring for patients. None of you seem to care at all! What happened to the nursing profession??? You should all be ashamed of yourselves!!!!

  • Melissa

    April 14, 2008 at 10:58 am

    I just found out that my hospital in the St. Paul area will be piloting the use of the “Yacker Tracker.” I Googled it today to see what the heck it was, and was appauled to find that its some stupid toy looking thing that kindergarden teachers use to keep their classrooms quiet. I’d like to think that there are better ways to control noise than hanging one of these things in plain view of everyone who walks on the unit.

  • tess

    August 8, 2008 at 1:34 am

    hey did you ever try shutting your big yap at night? Nurses are noisy, and patients can’t sleep. If people would use a bit of common courtesy at night, these kind of silly “toys” wouldn’t be needed. Noise is one of the most common patient complaints. And if nurses would bother to read the “evidence based studies” they would already know about the healing effects of sleep.
    Not everything is a plot by “adminstration” against our poor nurses – sometimes it’s about the PATIENT!

  • Penny

    February 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I work at a hospice house where a congregation of nurses, social workers, chaplains and doctors at the team station often leads to a level of noise that would be considered unacceptable in any medical facility let alone a HOSPICE! When I recently observed the yacker tracker on an L&D floor, I came back to my co-workers with news of this wonderful device. We are purchasing one ASAP and hope to finally be reminded when our voices are just too loud but we are still unable to recognize the “forest through the treese” (or the loudmouths through the noise!).

    too bad you hate it .. I think it’s a great idea.

  • Laura Padron

    July 1, 2009 at 7:45 am

    I think the yacker tracker is a great idea. I think many nurses are insulted, however, the truth hurts. If we were more mindful of our voices, we wouldn’t need a machine like this. I work in an ICU. It sounds more like a bar than a quiet, healing area. We have to do some self reflection on this issue. None of us would be able to sleep or get rest in our areas. This is not rocket science, we can get back to kindergarden basics here. We are loud because we can be and it is not acceptable and very inconsiderate. Laura RN

  • Robin, PMHCNS-BC

    July 8, 2009 at 7:55 am

    I think this is an idea that speaks to a particular issue. Even this morning, I got on a elevator transporting a patient to the OR. The staff were talking loudly right over her as if she didn’t exist about breakfast foods. At one point, the patient even said, “O)h, you’re making me sick.” Staff are at time insensitive to the needs of our patients-this includes being excessively loud. If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you appreciate just how loud and disruptive staff can be. I know, I have and I do.

  • heather

    July 16, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I also feel that the Yacker Tracker is a Great idea. I have looked for a less “juvenile” style, but have not been able to find one, so as far as I am concerned the stop light will suffice. Our patients should be our number one concern and a less noisy treatment area is what they have been asking for. I highly doubt anyone would be castigated for yelling CODE BLUE. That is not the problem. It is the stories bout our weekends and our musings about what we’d like to have for lunch. I am disappointe with the Nurses willing to put their foolish pride before the needs of our patients.

  • Donna

    October 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I agree with Heather! We can fuss all we want to about the device being demeaning, but, if our patients are complaining about the noise at the nurses’ stations, and the care team has been reminded time and time again to keep the noise level down, but choose to disregard this basic need of our patients for a quiet, healing environment, than you get what you get – a means of noise notification!

  • Mary

    September 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Can you say patient centered care? It’s about our patients being in a healing environment. It’s not about the date we had on Saturday, vacation we’re going to take, or chatter about who did what to whom (all comments/complaints I have received from patients who heard conversations in the wee hours of the morning).

  • Patsy

    March 31, 2011 at 6:09 am

    We recently just got this device in our ER and our nursing stations…Personally I think that the adminstration and management should have been able to approach there staff and have conversations on how to better take care of the noise issue. I agree that patients need quiet, but we are all working night or day, the hospital does not shut down and there are times when noise is warrant for certain issues, and how does one control a noisy patient who doesn’t care who hears them. I know I am offend by this approach versus the data showing that it is an issue, as we are a little town hospital with a busy ER. Trying to make noise to make the red light go off was difficult with noise you thought would make it change, but laugh or do your job and make a noise bingo there it goes red….For people to assume that a little child’s teaching toy would work with adult professionals is just plain SILLY!

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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