Nurses day- So what!


Nurses day is officially 12 May. It started in 1965 in the US, where they celebrate from the 6th to the 12th. The 12 May is the birthday of the first official nurse, Miss Florence Nightingale.

I became a qualified general nurse in 1990. We didn’t have nurses day in South Africa. I am not sure why we have it now?

Nurses day

Nurses day is supposed to honour the nurses around the world for their hard work, dedication and caring. Their alleviation of suffering and their advocacy for the health of those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Except for a few hospitals who acknowledge their nursing staff with a little gift. A key ring, a pen, a mini chocolate, a mug with the hospital logo on it, nurses day is mostly celebrated in the colleges where an inspirational speaker will come and talk to the students.

I must admit one company in South Africa did acknowledge nurses day 3/4 years ago. Sorbet beauty bar gave all nurses on presentation of their Council registration slip, a polish and paint treat.

I loved that, I was lucky it happened to co-inside with my day/night shift change, so I had a few days with beautiful nails.

The sad truth

Sadly I don’t think the majority of nurses actually deserve the acknowledgement. This is a generalisation I know. Nursing was a professional calling. You knew when you signed up that, you were never going to get rich, you were going to work long, hard hours (12 hour shifts), you were going to work weekends and nights, public holidays and school holidays.

You were very likely not going to receive thank you’s or praise from the patient who just threw up all over your clean uniform. Patients were going to swear at you and shout at you. Hopefully you would have paid enough attention during class to realise those where the ones who need you the most as they were likely the most afraid.

The rules

The rules were simple to follow. You wore your white uniform, your dress covered your knees, even when sitting (I do admit to liking the fact that nurses may now wear pants).

Sensible shoes, shoes that made a noise disturbed your patient’s rest. Heels hurt your knees and back. Shiny patent shoes are easily scuffed and are hard to keep clean. Plain lace ups or slip ons that covered your feet and supported them during the long day.

No necklaces that dangled. You were allowed a small symbol of your religion on your necklace. The length of your necklace was equally important. It had to be short enough that a patient couldn’t grip it and pull or it had to be long enough to be out of sight.

Your hair had to be neatly kept away from your face. It had to be kept clean and although colours were allowed they could not be outrageous. You for instance couldn’t have a pink head. I do think today that if a nurse has a streak of colour in her hair it is not the end of the world. If I were still nursing I would allow a streak during awareness campaigns, such as ’10 days of awareness of violence against women and children’ or Breast cancer month, or prostate cancer awareness in November, International HIV/AIDS day, diabetes month, TB awareness etc.

Tattoos were taboo, there is still a stigma attached to them. While I love some of the art work that people are wearing, I am in semi agreement about tattoos. I think it is okay to have a discreet tattoo with a loved one’s name if they have passed.

Make up had to be understated if worn, it should still be. Let’s face it no one wants a nurse who looks like she’s been made up to either stand on a street corner, had a fight with a make up palette or is dressed for a party. Make up makes us feel better and in some cases look better. Even patient’s in hospital would like a nurse to help them put on a little lipstick now and then.

Earrings were only studs or sleepers in your ears and only one earring per ear. I am okay with more than one earring but not dangling feathers or chains. For the same reason as no dangling necklaces.

Nurses need to have a watch with a second had, this is important in doing observations on your patient. No wrist watches were allowed as they could not only injure your patient but you the nurse. When you put your arms under a patient to move them, the watch could hurt or scratch either of you. Nurses fob watches (broaches) are still available and many pharmaceutical companies had them out, as well as being available online.

Photo by Black Chitsulo on Unsplash

Where has our professional image gone?

Today I see nurses wearing all sorts of rings on their fingers. Rings pose the same risk to patients as wrist watches. I can’t even begin to count the number of nurses who have either lost a stone out of their engagement rings or actually lost the whole ring. The rules uses to be, you could only wear a plain wedding band if you were married.

Your nails had to be short and unpolished or at worst polished with a clear varnish. Once again this was for patient safety and your safety. Long nails could scratch patients and bacteria can get in under flaking nail polish.

NO GUM! To this day if someone is chewing gum, I don’t hear a word they are saying I am too busy worrying that they are either going to spit the gum at me while they are talking or choke on it, or I am think that this is what a cow chewing cud looks like.

We took pride in our profession, we looked and dressed the part of professional women. Now I see them getting off the taxi’s in their slippers, fancy pantyhose with patterns better suited for a smart occasion that dealing with bodily fluids.

Uniforms that are one size to small, and because most hospitals have gone back to the white shirts, we can usually see the colour of your leopard print bra!

The fake eyelashes that remind me of spider legs, just waiting to fall into an open wound.

The braids that can’t always be washed or they fall out. I often found pieces of hair lying around on the ward floors, having come loose from someones head. People lose hair, that is the reason to keep it tied back or clipped.

The rings and fancy watches with their little stones harbouring germs.

The long fingernails that are never quite properly scrubbed, lets be honest, hand washing is much talked about but seldom done properly! The coloured nail polish you haven’t quite had time to redo is now chipped and flaking and two nails have nothing on at all.

Are you a real nurse or is this just your job?


If you are a nurse, stand in front of a mirror and take a good, honest look at yourself. Do you look professional, do you look like someone you would entrust your mother/father/husband/child to, or do you just look like you are dressed as a nurse?


Is this just a job or are you proud to be a nurse?


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