Recently I had a conversation with several EMS administrative personnel of varying titles. The subject was crews wanting hot-weather uniforms for summer—more specifically tactical shorts and t-shirts (in few cases polo shirts).
I should disclose that I live and work in Florida, where we have four seasons: somewhat hot, hot, very hot, and damn hot. So I have some experience with hot environments and uniforms.
I have heard the question “Why can’t we wear shorts and t-shirts?” many times over the years, but I’ve never supported the concept—not as a provider, not as a supervisor/administrator, and certainly not as an educator.
Why not? For me it’s about professionalism. No matter how you try to reason it out, it’s hard to perceive anyone as professional when they’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
We enter people’s lives when they’re at their most vulnerable. They need to trust we are competent and professional. I realize what we wear doesn’t impact our competence, but it does create a perception.
Think about this: You’re sitting in a neurosurgeon’s office, waiting for your first visit, and he walks out wearing multipocket hiking shorts and a t-shirt with a Society of Neurological Surgeons logo emblazoned on it and board-certified fellow embroidered on the left sleeve.
What would your first thought be? Maybe something like, Who is this guy, and why is he dressed like Bill Murray in Caddyshack? Or maybe, How competent is this guy who looks like he just rolled in from camping? Would you be comfortable in this situation?
It’s not really about the shorts or the t-shirt; it’s about perception. For the public to feel safe, to trust us, to invite us into their lives when things are at their worst, they need to trust that we are competent and professional. To do this they need to have a perception of us that supports competence and professionalism.
In the 1980s American political strategist Lee Atwater simply and succinctly said, “Perception is reality.” People’s perception of us as paramedical professionals shapes their ability to trust us to help them and provide competent care.
Troublesome perceptions are just the tip of an iceberg of reasons why we shouldn’t wear shorts and t-shirts as uniforms. There are safety issues, personal protective issues, and, not to be forgotten, hairy leg issues, all of which are good reasons to avoid this fashion faux pas.
When it’s hot think tactical pants made with hot-weather materials and dry-fit-style polo shirts with your department logo embroidered on the left chest, name and certification on the right, and your certification patch on one of the sleeves.
One last thought: We do not need EMS or Fire-Rescue emblazoned on the backs of our polo shirts. It provides no real purpose, since it’s generally covered by your OSHA-approved reflective vest.
John Todaro, BA, NRP, RN, TNS, NCEE, is assistant director of the Center for Experiential Learning & Simulation at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He is a member of the EMS World editorial advisory board.