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Reuters: "Nurses in Nighties Stage South Africa Pajama Protest"

April 14, 2005 -- Today Reuters posted a short unsigned piece reporting that nurses in South Africa's North West province are protesting what they view as inadequate uniform allowances by wearing "pajamas and nighties" to work. Government health officials are reportedly not amused. While the protest could be problematic in view of the enduring "naughty nurse" stereotype, and nurses' long campaign for public respect, we can't help but be impressed with the nurses' unusually creative action on a potentially important issue.

The protesting nurses reportedly object to annual uniform allowances that include the equivalent of only US$9 for shoes; in fact, though the piece does not say so, bedside nurses put so much mileage on shoes that this is an important issue. Itumeleng Molaplhegi, a shop steward with the nurses' union, the Democratic Nurses Organization of South Africa, reportedly told the national SAPA news agency that the protest was "the only way we can exercise our rights." Uh, okay. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said that the issue was being addressed, but the protest was premature. A North West province health department spokesman was less restrained, arguing that the nurses' action was "confusing patients and turning our facilities into bedrooms." It does seem that any momentary confusion as to whether pajama-clad nurses were patients would be quickly dispelled by the nurses' care activities. (The piece does not say whether anyone has confused the protest pajamas with patterned scrubs.) Some health officials have reportedly made the interesting argument that the protest is a security risk, since it might allow anyone to walk into hospitals pretending to be a nurse. The piece does not explain how intruders able to pass as nurses by wearing pajamas or nighties would be unable to do so by wearing standard nursing uniforms.

It's difficult to fully assess the protest's effect on the nursing image without photos. Assuming it does not involve a clearly unprofessional exposure of skin, it could be a creative way to highlight a deceptively important issue, namely a lack of adequate resources for front line nurses who are critical to patient outcomes. Unfortunately, it does recall the "naughty nurse" stereotype that has long plagued the nursing profession, and it may not be an ideal long-term protest vehicle for a profession that has struggled to gain public respect. Still, it's hard not to feel some admiration for an idea that has garnered global press attention for a protest about a uniform allowance.

See the article "Nurses in Nighties Stage South Africa Pajama Protest" from Reuters.

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