A union representing nurses at the Thunder Bay Health Sciences Centre is voicing concerns about a new policy that requires nurses to wear a standard uniform.

Hospital vice president Rhonda Crocker-Ellacott said the idea for a standard uniform came from a survey in which 43 patients' families were asked about "recognizing" nurses.

Rhonda Crocker Ellacott

Rhonda Crocker Ellacott, executive vice president at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, says the idea for a standard uniform came from a survey. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"For the most part, they found it very, very difficult to identify who was a professional nurse,” she said. “And if they were able to identify who was the nurse, it was only because the nurse themselves told them."

About 1,000 nurses were also surveyed. Many respondents said nurses look professional and are recognizable.

The executive director of the Professional Association of RPNs in Ontario — the association representing registered practical nurses — said the hospital has a double standard.

“I don't think we're going to tell physicians ‘this is what you're going to wear in today.’ And, I certainly always worry about the issue that we're going to suggest that physicians are more able to make professional decisions [and] that nurses … must have them made for them,” Dianne Martin said.

'A better way to do it'

Martin said nurses, housekeepers and porters wearing different colours could create "a hierarchy.”

"You know ... they move to this colour, it's a more important person. You move to this colour, it's a less important person,” she said.

Dianne Martin

Dianne Martin, executive director of Professional Association of RPN's in Ontario, says forcing nurses to wear similar uniforms and not requiring the same of doctors is a double standard. (Supplied)

"The only redeeming factor to that colour thing is patients can identify you, and I think there's a better way to do it."

The president of the Ontario Nurses Association said a patient’s ability to identify a nurse goes beyond a standard-issue uniform.

"We as RN's … wear nursing pins. We wear name tags that say ‘registered nurse’ on them,” Linda Haslam-Stroud said.

“And certainly, I think the first thing for any of us to do, as nurses, when we walk into a room is to say, 'Hello Mr Smith, my name's Linda, and I'm your registered nurse for today.' That is the key really to ensuring that the patient knows who is caring for them, and who they can relate to."

But Crocker-Ellacott said that when many nurses started wearing ‘scrubs’ at work in the late 1980s, it became more difficult for patients and families to identify nurses.

The survey was conducted by Lakehead University and Confederation College nursing programs in 2012

Any changes to uniforms won't be implemented until the spring of 2015.