The #whatnurseswear campaign shows what nurses can achieve using social media

Nurses command respect for the profession by uniting to challenge outdated attitudes

Nurses command respect for the profession by uniting to challenge outdated attitudes

Jessica Anderson.
Picture: Eric Tolentino/Instagram

Jessica Anderson, a senior NHS nurse, recently broke the world record for running the fastest marathon dressed in a nurse’s uniform.

She used the race as an opportunity to raise funds for Barts Charity. Her initial application to Guinness World Records was rejected on grounds that the scrubs she wore did not meet their criteria for a nurse's uniform.

Even though scrubs are worn by nurses around the world, Guinness World Records ruled that a nurse’s uniform was a dress, pinafore and cap. Ms Anderson's London marathon record was not recognised.

Sexualised image of (female) nurses

This decision – since overturned – reinforced outdated gender stereotypes of nursing as a profession of 'hyper-feminine' women running around in sexualised costumes. It reflected an image of nursing that belongs in a Carry On film.

The criteria originally set by Guinness World Records meant that men who are nurses would also have had to wear a dress if they were attempting to break the record. Some trans and non-binary people might have been excluded by the gender criteria.

A profession for everyone

Over the past year, there have been efforts to challenge some of these gender stereotypes. Nurses and nursing students in Scotland and England have been visiting primary schools to share the message that nursing is a profession for everyone. Children have been encouraged to dress up in realistic, gender-neutral uniforms.

Stereotypes are part of a wider issue in which modern nursing is not fully recognised as the highly skilled, degree-educated profession it is. As we continue to face a recruitment and retention crisis it’s essential we are able to come together as a profession to challenge harmful messages and communicate our value.

‘By using social media, nurses gained global attention and showed their political appetite’

When Ms Anderson was denied her world record, many nurses and nursing students took to social media. Using the hashtag #WhatNursesWear, thousands of nurses around the world shared pictures of themselves and their colleagues in their uniforms. Photos of nurses in scrubs and tunics flooded the newsfeeds of #NurseTwitter, alongside smart office attire for some community nurses and a small number of smart uniform dresses.

The support for Ms Anderson was underlined when three of the UK’s chief nursing officers spoke out against the decision by Guinness World Records and shared pictures of themselves in uniform.

Nursing staff in Wales. Picture: Jay Williams

The nursing profession came together at every level – from nursing student to chief nurses, to challenge outdated and sexist perceptions. This unprecedented outpouring is particularly significant at a time when nurses are under-represented in politics, and wards and other workplaces remain understaffed. By using social media, nurses gained global attention and showed their political appetite.

How social media can be a positive force

Over the past few years, social media has become a mechanism for influence in the profession. Campaigns such as #HelloMyNameIs, #ScrapTheCap, #BursaryOrBust and #EndPJParalysis have gained traction, with social media providing a platform for nurses to unite and mobilise on issues that affect them. Where governments have failed to listen, nurses have found alternative avenues of influence.

The #whatnurseswear hashtag, like other social media campaigns, brought nurses together and gave them a shared voice, to great effect.

Guinness World Records has accepted its error and decided to award Jessica Anderson her record. It has also promised to review its 200-plus marathon titles to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.

By speaking up for themselves, nurses were able to effect change for countless others. And through ongoing campaigns such as #SafeStaffingSavesLives, they will continue to do so.

Leanne Patrick is a final-year mental health nursing student at the University of Stirling and chair of the Scottish Health Students Council 

This article is for subscribers only