Nurse Training In 1980s Usa

This article was first published on the old Nurse Uniforms - Past & Present website ( around 1999-July 2018, created by Kevin Dycken. It is now offline, this is a remake in a modern look.

Memories of an American Student Nurse in the 1980s By Sherry RN

I found your nursing website and I love the historical spectacle of it all! I have never seen a larger collection of photos and uniforms. I went to a hospital-based nursing school in the southeastern US in the 80s and the school has sadly closed its doors as the nursing programs moved to the universities. Early in the 20th century most US nurses were trained in hospital schools of nursing. I apparently just made it in the nick of time as the class after mine was the very last class there. I always considered it a little bit of a cross between boot camp and a finishing school but I wouldn't have missed it for the world! (I already had been to college, I am definitely in favor of college, I just wanted to go to a hospital program) I have enclosed pictures from the brochure from the school of nursing (taken in the 70s).

Following completion of a few courses at a local college we functioned on a 2 week schedule. One week we would have a nursing class on Monday and Friday and we would do our clinical days Tuesday through Thursday. The next week, my personal favorite, we had classes on Monday and Thursday and clinical on Tuesday and Wednesday. That Friday was blessedly free, actually it was supposed to be a study day I think but, oh well.

Our uniform was what I call polyester blue, a color not found in nature (a poly-cotton blend that felt mostly like polyester). It snapped up the front and had white cuffs on the short sleeves. Over this we had a most unusual bib which required you to flip the collar part inside out to form a raised collar of sorts. Then you got to button up the bib with double sided button studs. Very weird and the bane of our existence, I have never seen anything like it before or since. The bib also had 3 pleats on each side forming a sort of chevron and they stood for something but exactly what has slipped away, something like truth, justice, and the American way, only related to nursing. Then for clinical wear, a complete wrap around white apron was attached to the bib. For uniform wear outside the hospital the apron came off and a blue belt the same color as the uniform got attached to the bib or we wore our blue lab coat. On class days we didn't wear the uniforms. We didn't wear them for our psychiatric rotation either, apparently it didn't fit in with the 'milieu' concept. For our pediatric rotation we wore colorful tunics over the dress that we chose ourselves. Of course it was white pantyhose and white nursing shoes to go with it all.

Our caps were very plain; a simple white cap with hemstitching all around about 1" inside the edge. I have to admit I did choose the school partly on the basis of having to wear a cap down through the years and wanting a "good" one (who knew what changes were in store?) We got our caps about halfway through our first year of the three year program in a traditional capping ceremony.

Over the 3 years several quarters were spent studying medical-surgical nursing including intensive care, respiratory intensive care and cardiac intensive care. We spent one quarter each on pediatrics, psych nursing, and obstetrics. We traveled around to different locations to do our clinical experiences for pediatric and psych nursing since our hospital did not have a strong pediatric program (at that time) and had no psych facility attached. During these days our legal signature was our name followed by S.N. (Student Nurse).It was so exciting to sign that the first time! Following graduation it was G.N. (Graduate Nurse) until you passed the state board exams and then hopefully you became an R.N. (Registered Nurse).

When we graduated we wore the classic white uniform dress (chosen by our class) and the white hosiery and shoes. Our caps never had stripes so they remained plain white as well. In the US you would always wear the cap from your school in the clinical arena and I still have mine, although we no longer wear them. I remember being in the hospital with dozens of different kinds of caps floating around: some like mortarboards, some like upside down cupcake liners, some like maids caps from old movies and some the more traditional cap that I was used to, having grown up reading Cherry Ames books (which were decades old even then). Many of those caps had stripes and they were in every color imaginable.

Once we graduated, nurses caps went away fairly quickly and then the white dresses were replaced by pant suits and scrubs. I have never had to wear a uniform since graduation now that I think about it. When I did home health nursing I wore a white top with navy or burgundy pants or vice versa but they were not from a uniform store. I switched to white running shoes from all my Nursemate shoes. White is really an impractical color I have to say, but a good clean uniform dress did look pristine and fresh. I do miss the old days, they were a lot of fun and by golly you knew who the nurses on the floor were. Recently there has been a move locally to get nurses back into whites in certain hospitals, not dresses necessarily but at least all RNs are to wear white.

On the hundredth anniversary of the hospital there was a reunion where they commissioned Madame Alexander (dollmaker) to produce a doll with the 1950s version of the uniform for those who wanted it. It turned out very well and I happily spent the money for that and it brought back many wonderful memories. In any case, thank you very much for the chance to visit these old memories of others' on your website. It is a work of art! And heart!

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