In the old days, the uniform of the emergency provider consisted of the grease-stained jumpsuit of a gas station attendant or the white shirt and black tie of a mortician. Today’s uniforms represent the professional standard desired of paramedics in the 21st century.
To maintain this professional standard, paramedics must present a professional appearance to the public and the healthcare community. Their attire should not only function for the job, it must also provide a professional image that allows patients to instantly feel more confident when they see a paramedic. This can be accomplished by simply keeping uniforms neat and clean. Professional uniforms are often provided, but fail to impress because of a sloppy, unkempt look and a lazy refusal by the paramedic to rise above a substandard appearance. Sleepless nights, poor working conditions and consecutive shifts can also contribute to a shoddy uniform. Most often, though, the reason is laziness, which can often be cured by quick and easy solutions. Several methods and tools exist to maintain a professional uniform with minimal effort.
Hygiene—There is no excuse for bad hygiene. Pack an extra toiletry kit to keep at work. If you’re rushed or late for your shift, shaving and brushing teeth can be done at work. Receiving a haircut on duty, though, is never recommended. If “crazy hair” is a problem at night, consider wearing a cap (if your service permits). Always have a box of mints or a pack of gum nearby to combat breath odors.
Caps—Caps and hats should be kept clean and free of stains. Sweat stains present a poor appearance on a baseball cap. Baseball caps can be washed on the top rack of a dishwasher, which is easier than hand washing and gentler than a washing machine.
Shirts—Several methods exist to maintain the appearance of a uniform top, whether it is a dress shirt, golf shirt or T-shirt. The most common is perhaps one of the least used: the iron. Light starch will help reduce wrinkles, and progressive amounts of starch will make a shirt stiffer and more wrinkle-resistant. Heavy starch is the best solution, though it is not the most comfortable. If a heavily starched shirt can stand up on its own, then it will resist wrinkles even if the paramedic sleeps in it. Choose a level of starch appropriate for comfort but that maintains a good appearance.
Keeping shirts tucked in seems to be a large problem. How often do you see medics responding to calls with half their shirts pulled out of their pants? “Shirt-stays” solve the problem. These are similar to suspenders, except they hold the shirt down instead of the pants up. They consist of an elastic strap with a hook or snap on each end. One hook attaches to the shirttail and the other to the top of the sock. They stay under the pants and are not visible. Four stays (one pack) will hold a shirt snug in the front and back. Shirt-stays can be purchased at military clothing stores, uniform stores or places that sell suits and dress shirts. As an added bonus, they keep socks pulled tight.
In warm climates or on hot summer shifts, sweat stains and body odor often soil uniforms. Spray Scotchgard on the inside of the shirt in the underarm areas and let it dry completely. The Scotchgard will keep sweat from soaking through. An undershirt also keeps sweat from soaking through the outer uniform shirt. For a smelly shirt after a long day, Febreze is an excellent temporary solution. The best people to clean and starch a professional uniform are always the pros.
Pants—The same time-saving techniques utilized for shirts can be adopted for pants. A good iron and a can of starch can create a wrinkle-free, wrinkle-resistant masterpiece with razor-sharp creases. A pair of starched pants may not be as comfortable as loose, baggy BDUs, but the professional appearance is worth a little sacrifice.
Boots—Boots should always be shined. Scuffed, unpolished boots are not indicative of skill and competence (though they’re considered such by many paramedics). The military method of shining boots consists of polish, a cloth and spit. EMS needs are not so drastic. A decent shine can be achieved with a standard shoeshine kit, which contains polish, a dauber and a buffing brush. The kits can be purchased at any discount department store. A good polishing once a month, with occasional touch-ups, will maintain a decent appearance. The boots will look good, and the polishing will help preserve the leather and make the boots more comfortable. A quick and easy spit shine can be accomplished using instant spit-shine products or Mop & Glo. Both products provide an excellent but temporary shine. The instant spit shine wipes on with a sponge applicator. Mop & Glo simply wipes on with a rag. The shine is quick, but this should not be used too often. Over time it will dry out the leather and allow it to split and crack.
Many tools and tricks exist to make uniforms appear neat and professional. With such easy solutions at hand, there is no excuse for sloppy paramedics. Although a long shift or a bad call might add wrinkles or scuff boots, a properly cared-for uniform will still be evident.