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Daily Mail: "Nurses face ban on thongs and cleavage"

September 19, 2006 -- There's nothing we like better than major newspaper headlines that link nursing and lingerie, and the Daily Mail (U.K.) obliged us today with a short item about proposals for new workplace clothing rules at an Essex hospital. The unsigned piece reports that Southend Hospital is considering rules that would require "nurses" to make sure they don't expose cleavage or underwear, and "doctors" to refrain from wearing stethoscopes around their necks because of the risk of infection. But just in case anyone missed the basic message--physicians are to health care instruments as nurses are to sexual markers--the piece also resurrects the Christina Aguilera naughty nurse ad for Skechers that nurses ended two years ago. The piece presents the ad with this caption: "Sorry guys: don't expect to see the likes of Christina Aguilera in this nurses uniform at Southend Hospital."

The Daily Mail piece reports that "health bosses" at the hospital are considering new uniform guidelines that urge nurses to "cover up their cleavage and make sure they don't inadvertently expose their pants to patients." Meanwhile, "doctors have also been told not to wear stethoscopes around their neck for fear of spreading infection around hospitals." The piece notes that proposed guidelines would also ban high heels that can wake sleeping patients, as well as jewelry other than "ear studs and wedding rings." These items are not linked to any specific profession. The piece says hospital staff are being asked for their views.

It's not clear to what extent the problems with this piece originate with the hospital, as opposed to the Daily Mail's interpretation of the proposed rules. First, why is the underwear rule apparently directed only at nurses, as opposed to all the other staff? Has some study found that only nurses have a thing about exposing themselves? Was that study based on media images, like, oh, let's see, the Christina photo attached to this piece? What about men in nursing--is "cleavage" an issue for them? Or just thongs? And of course, while the big concern for nurses is their underwear, the big one for physicians is their stethoscopes, since physicians are apparently the only ones who actually use stethoscopes to provide care to patients. Nurses must be too busy debating whether their outfits are revealing enough to do anything so difficult and boring. Of course, we agree that it's a good idea to consider the very real potential for infection from equipment and clothing, including the stethoscopes that both nurses and physicians use. Lab coats and neckties are other potential sources of infection.

The media's constant, gratuitous association of nursing with sex demoralizes practicing nurses, discourages career seekers (especially men), and undermines nurses' claims to adequate clinical and educational resources. In view of the stereotyping we continue to see in pieces like this one, it is no surprise that a recent U.K. study found that nurses were the leading subject of work-related male sexual fantasies, nor that the profession remains more than 90% female.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Daily Mail piece, though, is that it fails to tell us what the Southend Hospital guidelines would say about Christina's cute little hat, not to mention her 100 cc syringe and 8-gauge needle. We hope someone brings those to the attention of the "health bosses."

See the article "Nurses face ban on thongs and cleavage" in the September 19, 2006 edition of the Daily Mail. (If the link breaks, see the pdf)


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