An identity crisis and nurses uniforms


Some of my NHS ID badges!

There are obviously some of my ID badges missing from here…I had a student nurse, staff nurse, pupil midwife and staff midwife badge in addition to the ones above. And so many tales to tell whilst wearing each one. I didn’t know I had kept them all, but as I make my way through cluttered cupboards as I no longer have to work full time, I am finding lots of gems from the past, such as these. If you want to know more about the stories behind the badges, read my book Catching Babies.

It was only when I pondered on all the ‘midwife’ titles did I consider how confused the public must be with the variation in names of staff working in the NHS. And yet I was proud to wear each ID badge, and never gave a thought to the understanding behind the name for those who read it. And then there’s all those uniforms! Oh my, it used to be that a nurse’s uniform was only worn by nurses, but now the snack machine filler looks like a ward sister….

That aside, I really have mixed views about midwives wearing nurses uniforms. Not averse to having a corporate image (so at least the public can distinguish who is the carer in a hospital situation) I once initiated and managed the move to midwives wearing polo shirts and trousers or skirts, instead of a nurse’s attire. The reason being I believe maternity care should be based on a partnership model, with no hierarchies. Once a midwife dons nurse’s outfit there is a division, an unspoken ‘I am the expert’ from the midwife. Now this might not be apparent; the midwife could very well be the most caring and facilitative of woman centred-ness, but the symbol is there. So we wore our navy or green polo shirts with the word ‘midwife’ blazened above the left breast, and all was well. We had a uniform, but it was less imposing, slightly more informal. There was some rebellion, but eventually it was widely accepted. Until, that is, the porters within the hospital (or was it the maintenance men?) started wearing the same regalia! Well let me tell you that caused a stir. There was anarchy.

Two lovely midwives at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust

Nowadays the midwives are back in nurses uniform. What do you think?

20 comments on “An identity crisis and nurses uniforms

    • Thanks for your comment Chrissy! I loved wearing my uniform as a nurse, and think it helped reassure sick people that I cared for in hospital…must be worn correctly though! But I think midwives have a different relationship than the ‘nurse-patient’ one, more of a facilitator I would say. So whilst I am not averse to a uniform, I don’t think it should be a nurses one…..

  1. No I don’t think a Midwife should wear the same
    Uniform as a Nurse and Visa-versa. The training
    Is completely different and the recognition within the role itself, although as a Midwife we are often called upon in the birthing room as Nurse!!! maybe that’s we’re society often view us a being all the same. The profession has a clear difference. Try and put a policeman in a fire fighters uniform!!! We all need boundaries within our profession and be recognised for the training and dedication we have given

    • That’s a good point Nicky about police and firefighters! So many different thoughts about this…wonder what women and families think? Interesting that health visitors never wear a uniform and are never called ‘nurse’. Food for thought.

  2. Afternoon Sheena. For me the uniform is part of the armoury of a medicalised view of childbirth. It represents a system of outdated hierarchy and to me it feels formal, a barrier almost when we should be looking to embrace a supportive partnership model with women. Nowadays its not just ‘nurse’ uniforms on the labour wards but sometimes scrub suits which allows midwives to merge identities with their obstetric colleagues. Behind doors whilst women give birth midwives are also donning surgical gowns and sometimes visors according to practitioner preference. One woman when telling me her birth story said of the 2nd stage ‘…everything had been so calm in labour, suddenly I looked up and saw darth vader’! I think polo shirts on labour wards would be much less threatening to women…maybe its time to explore again starting with our MLU…….

  3. When I went to Finland for my elective all the staff in the whole hospital whether you cleaned toilets, delivered babies, or were a doctor or porter, they wore the same uniform, same socks etc. a uniform doesn’t really make much difference, as longs as you are professional and do your job to a high standard that’s what people want. However i do like a uniform because I find it can be a messy job being a midwife! Haha

    • Yes it’s interesting how different hospitals and countries interpret uniform! Agree good to have protection!

  4. I think polo shirts are a good idea (as far as being a lot less formal and more ‘friendly’ and also I imagine they are more practical to work in!

    For my first baby I went to a MLU and after many hours and a succession of uniformed Midwives, I was going through transition (unknown to me) and there was yet another Midwife come on duty.. The thing was she was younger than me and wearing scrubs trousers and a T-Shirt style top – in-between contractions I was very panicky asking who she was and what she did – took quite a while to be convinced she was a Midwife!

    So in summary I think great idea but everyone needs to do it! I thought they were fed up with caring for me and had sent a work experience student in to sit with me 🙂


  5. I don’t particularly like wearing a nurses uniform as a midwife. Whilst working as a nurse I’m fine with it. So, it’s not the uniform itself for me. I guess I agree with everyone else so far. I think it’s simply that the sickness role is reinforced by identifying with nursing but,what do nurses think? Do nurses also want to be seen as promoting health and client empowerment? I think even MacMillan nurses wear uniform but don’t need them for clinical reasons. Do the public actually like all health professionals to wear them? I think we have to ask them. Is the proportion of our clientele who actiually want the ‘distance’? (Devil’s advocate!)

    We wore polo shirts for a while and I liked them but had no pockets! Midwives in the next town to us don’t wear uniform at all. I’d like that option best (with a small allowance or tax relief).

    • Some great points here Jilly. No pockets was def an issue! And you are right; what do the public think? I wonder if there’s any research. Such an interesting debate…:)

  6. Hi
    Where I trained the midwives wore green polo t-shirts which bore the hospital name and some wording to do with being a midwife/maternity.

    On crossing the north-south divide I went into the same royal blue uniform I wore as a std also I was constantly referred to as ‘nurse’ by the women.

    I am aware that midwives are getting their nursing registration back on the basis that they do so much ‘nursing’ on maternity wards. However these midwives doing nursing within maternity will not work on general wards as they don’t have the experience to do do. So the NMC sees midwifery as a part of nursing in that midwives in the nurses register don’t need to work as a nurse to meet practice and CPD requirements. They can use there midwifery employment and CPD to cover both registrations.

    On questioning this on the RCM communities everyone seemed ok with one employment covering 2 registrations.

    So is it the mindset of those wearing a nurse uniform that they are nurses doing nurse-midwifery that the women pick up on and therefore see us as nurses?

    Is it because another trust I worked at the CEO decided that there were too many dark blue uniforms (midwives dark blue, nurses royal blue) that midwives were moved into royal blue?

    As for scrubs I actually would prefer to turn up to work, put on scrubs, then leave them for hospital to clean. Again I think it is mindset. If a whole hospital wore scrubs as uniform then it would be the norm but then then issue over midwives and uniform may still be the same – same colour etc etc xxx

    Ideally midwifery in the community, caseloading, normalising etc etc may go a long way to women and other health professionals knowing who we are and what we do may make this debate irrelevant

    Wendy x

    • Really good points Wendy! I think this is a great debate, and it will go on forever me thinks! Thanks for taking time to read and respond! Sheena x

  7. We definitely should not be wearing nurse’s uniform. As a clinical midiwfe I have been wearing my own clothes for years, even when working with a woman in labour. I never had a problem, and the women I cared for always knew who I was.

    I have to say your post made me smile…I remember how much consternation and debate there was when midwives at Salisbury voted to stop wearing paper caps!! We thought we were so trendy and rebellious 🙂

    • Oh yes Sarah, I remember taking our hats off on night shift and donning them speedily again in the morning when the managers came on duty! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  8. Pingback: My lovely great-niece and school uniform | Five Girls

  9. Sheena love the fact you have kept your badges #memories of a long career 👏I’m not a fan of uniform or theatre scrubs, but I do recall a patient survey (children’s) of “identification” people wanted to know who was their nurse and easily recognisable.

    What are your thoughts on different colours for lower and higher bands of midwives and managers ? Is a midwife a midwife a midwife ? According to NMC we are all midwives and is there such a thing as senior junior ? I think uniform can not only be medicalising for women but equally it can disempower midwives #power #hierarchal in preference to one colour promoting and building team spirit, support and good rapport amongst the team. would value your comments having been student to matron!

    • Thanks for comment Lesley, and yes I do feel hierarchies disempower. It’s a useful debate and one that continues to be revisited without a conclusion! My daughter who is a midwife has worked both with and without uniform, and feels it’s better without. Good to have your thoughts! Sheena x

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