Why your image counts when you’re a nurse

We’ve all seen the TV shows Grey’s Anatomy, Offspring, ER– those glamorous nurses who look great while on the job –  at the operating table in scrubs and equally as manicured at the start of a long shift as they did at the end of a gruelling one.

But that’s television right? It’s not the same in real life.

In reality, is there really any point to caring about your workplace image if your scrubs are going to be soiled by the end of the day and your hair all messed up?

The answer is yes.

Executive coaches, life coaches HR professionals state the importance of image because ‘presentation counts’. And the nursing profession is no exception.

While undoubtedly your workplace attire will be mandated by your employer, and you might not really like the look of it, the experts say there are a number of reasons that you should care about your image at work, and, what’s more, strive to impress. And here’s why.

  1. The image you take to work is your most important career asset.

‘First appearances’ count. It’s just the way we humans are wired. A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that it takes less than a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions. Basically, in a flash, people are forming judgments about your competence, your personality, and your values. And once that impression is formed, it is very difficult to change. So be sure your first impression says what you want it to say—namely, that you belong right where you are and you’re competent.

A large component of ‘looking the part’ is neat clothing and a clean, cared-for appearance. While it might seem superficial, it’s also tied to the way people will perceive you. Our brains seek comfort in looking at what’s in front of it and seeing what it expects. Just like you don’t want to see a construction worker getting into the cockpit of the aeroplane you’ve just boarded, when you’re in the hospital, you do want to see medical professionals ready to tackle any task. No one expects a nurse to be made up like a model (or a TV actress) – on the contrary, too much make-up and perfume can put people off. Bad breath is also a no-no. Remember, it’s a nurses’ job to get up close and personal, so these little details count. Clean fingernails, body odour. They’re all important.

Working as a nurse, you’re meeting strangers all day. Patients are usually full or worries and anxieties and the number one priority of your job as a nurse, is to put them at ease – look approachable, trustworthy and professional. And when you look the part, you’ll act the part! This also has to do with the way we’re psychologically wired. When we feel good, we act with confidence, and it’s imperative that a nurse acts with confidence while on the job.

  1. Your uniform signifies who you are.

Hospital administrators go to a lot of trouble to create an environment that’s calm and comfortable for both patients, their families. Part of this means making staff easily identifiable. It’s important that your uniform is clean and tidy and that your name badge is clearly visible too. You’re a representative of the organisation you work for, so put your best foot forward.

  1. The way you act counts too.

But your reputation doesn’t start and end with your appearance. While having neat hair and a tidy uniform will make you look presentable, the way you act also has a bearing on how others will perceive you – it is also a critical part of your professional image. This comes down to how you treat others – patients as well as staff.  A good rule of thumb, say nurses with years of experience on the job, is “Always be on time, and always be over-prepared.”

In your interactions with patients and staff, you need to brush off that pre-work argument with your partner or incident of ‘parking rage’ and get on with the job: Positive body language gestures such as making eye contact, smiling, having an ‘open’ stance (which means not folding your arms or turning away from people you’re conversing with) are all excellent ways to look interested and engaged, and will impact the way you’re perceived.

  1. Clean up your social media life.

It’s no good working hard to cultivate a solid image as a hardworking, reliable, efficient nursing professional, if your Instagram account or your Facebook profile is full of images that don’t necessarily put you in a good light. We’ve all got one or two of ‘those’ photos we took which we thought were a good idea at the time, but there’s no place for them in your professional life, so take a good hard look at your social media accounts and delete anything that’s not suitable or just hide it from your timeline.

According to an article in Business Insider.com, 45% of employers said they use social networks to screen job candidates. Furthermore, 8% of companies have fired employees for their behaviour on Facebook and LinkedIn. Also remember that anything that’s on the internet is likely to be there forever, so think twice about what you post – words and pictures – your online footprint is hard to wash away.

Whether you’re in a nursing job in Sydney or another Australian capital city, or anywhere in the world, the image that you cultivate will affect your professional reputation, and follow you throughout your career. It’s up to you what that looks like.

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