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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 23, 2004


Hospital attire evolves

Nurse Abel sticks with profession’s traditional uniform

Express Staff Writer

Grace Abel doesn’t dodge the question or hem and haw when asked about her nurse’s uniform.

"I’m just old-fashioned," she says without pause, but with a smile suggesting she feels right at home with her reason.

Grace Abel, left, discusses a medical chart with Gordon Wait at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center. Express photo by Willy Cook

Of all the nurses at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, only Abel, 62, still wears what might be called a traditional nurse’s uniform from days of yore.

It’s an all white dress, knee length white stockings, white shoes, and a nurse’s cardboard-stiff white cap with a black stripe.

For nurse Abel—who’s kept up with the times in medicine with continuing education in such techniques as trauma support, life support and pediatrics—it’s a matter of maintaining a tradition she accepted 40 years ago when she graduated from St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Denver.

In those days, she recalls, student nurses were required to wear starched uniforms so stiff they literally could be stood up in a corner. The dress she now wears is a softer material that she doesn’t have starched.

Another graduation tradition was to "cap" each student–that is, they were given white, usually folded caps with striping that signified what college degrees a nurse held. Some cap styles also signified different nursing schools.

Now, times have changed for nursing.

Starched white dresses are out. So-called "scrubs--unisex tops and pants bottoms, many with colorful wild flower print--are in.

Abel concedes that because more men are in nursing, dresses obviously don’t suit them. Plus, scrubs pants often make activities around a ward or operating room easier physically.

As a practical matter, Abel says fewer and fewer stores offer traditional nurse uniforms.

As if to confirm her judgment about tradition, Abel says three or four times a week patients at St. Luke’s stop her to say, "It’s so nice to see a nurse who looks like a nurse."

Says Abel:

"Going to ‘scrubs’ you give up dignity" associated with a nurse’s traditional uniform.

The novelty of her attire is a source of collegiality with other St. Luke’s nurses. On her 50th birthday, other nurses showed up at a party in traditional caps, partly as a humorous gesture, but mostly as a tribute to nurse Abel’s steadfast observance of tradition.

Abel has seen other changes in nursing since she first showed up in Sun Valley in 1965 and lived in nurses’ quarters on the third floor of the Sun Valley Lodge.

Nurses are now better prepared. Most attend schools associated with hospitals where they can be at the bedsides of patients as part of their learning. Technological and pharmaceutical advances in surgery and patient care also have improved the work of nurses.

But, like the experience of so many other institutions, hospital paperwork has become a major distraction from patient care.


Not quite yet.

Ironically, Abel says she’ll continue to work but she can’t afford the costs of health care in retirement.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.