The Demise of the Nurse's Cap

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


August 10, 2011

In This Article

The Hole Left by the Loss of the Nurse's Cap

The article we published on Medscape in May 2011, What Happened to the Cap: The Dawn of the Cap , and the accompanying slideshows spanned the cap's heyday -- from the late 19th century until the late 1960s, when the feminist movement was gathering steam in the United States. The feminist movement or "women's liberation" had a significant role in the saga of the nurse's cap from that time onward.

Why do we care what happened to the cap? The comments by readers following publication of the first article make it crystal clear that as the cap was phased out, nurses lost more than a head covering. For example, one writer said,

Things have not improved since caps and whites were discarded. They have gotten worse. Nurses get less respect, and both patients and staff, not to mention the visitors, are more confused than ever as to the identity of the nurse.

Another reader wrote:

It is not so much the cap I miss, it is that we took such pride in ourselves. I look at nurses today and wonder why they have become so sloppy. Hair is hanging down, uniforms are dirty and need ironing. I don't miss the cap, but I miss the neat, professional looking nurses.

Many other readers reacted with statements along the lines of "my actions communicate that I am the professional nurse," but this is naive, at best. Patients (including former nurses) overwhelmingly tell us that this is simply not true -- patients are confused, uncertain, and anxious about the identities of hospital personnel. Many readers suggested that the name tags worn by registered nurses should suffice, a solution that has its limitations. A reader wrote:

I have heard ad nauseam how a cap does not make a good nurse and that professionalism and compassion are not measured by a cap, but most nurses today look as if they just got out of bed, and trust me, a name tag does not cut it, whether colored or not. The elderly, the very young, and the very sick don't know a name tag from Adam's house cat. Yes, professionalism should be conveyed by behavior and a mastery of professional skills but when John Q. Public doesn't know who the nurse is, something is missing.

Does this mean that white uniforms and caps are required to convey professionalism? Certainly not, but it does suggest that, as a group, we have not successfully found a replacement for the outer trappings in which the public -- our patients -- placed so much trust.


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