Hijab in Healthcare

Meet Chaya! Working every day in the Healthcare field, Chaya was tasked by her current employer to research and provide documentation that her head coverings met the guidelines necessary for healthcare employees in sterile environments.  Here are her findings – they’re fascinating!  We hope you find them just as intriguing as we did, and helpful if you’re already in, or are considering, a profession in healthcare!

There are really two aspects to head wrapping in a healthcare environment- being the provider versus being the patient. The premise is, however, the same. The interesting part for me is that I work in an IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization) laboratory these days, and similar to in an operating room, everyone covers their hair! But they wear those paper tissue caps and take them on and off, repeatedly, every time they go in and out of the lab – because they look ridiculous. And then they complain all day that their hair is messy. I don’t have that problem. 🙂 

I was wearing regular tichels and covering them with the paper caps, but I was concerned that this may not have been the best practice, and started researching where the concept of “scrubs” and head coverings in clean/sterile environments originated. There are two schools of thought behind it. First of all, you do not want to bring any unwanted “stuff” into the area – “stuff” being lint, pollen, bacteria, etcetera. Surgical clothing is designed specifically of low lint, low absorbency fabric for this reason. So a tichel with fringes was not the best choice.

And secondly, healthcare providers see many patients per day, and don’t want to carry pathogens from one room to the next. Again, the low absorption factor is important. This is also why in high-risk areas like an operating room, the facility provides the scrubs, and the facility washes the scrubs- so pathogens don’t leave the space to travel to peoples’ homes. 

My research led me to a position statement by the Association for peri-Operative Registered Nurses, who explored the needs of operating room staff members that wear head coverings. They acknowledged that ideally, head coverings in the operating room should be disposable or laundered by the facility, and loosely wrapped around the neck. They also understood that the typical caps used may be too transparent, or not cover enough (ears, neck) to satisfy the needs of some who cover. They state that it should be the responsibility of the facility to provide a head covering that meets standards both for the healthcare provider and the facility, whether that means letting someone layer two or three paper caps, purchasing a different style disposable, or ordering from their uniform supplier. 

These factors are what has led me to decide to have “work head coverings” and “home head coverings.” A bandana-like fabric would work just as well, but I went for scrub caps. Experience eventually led me to add back my Wrapunzel No-Slip Headbands underneath. (Yes, Wrapunzel No-Slip Headbands still meet standards! There was actually a study done exploring whether surgeons wearing socks and underwear contributed to increased infection rates. The consensus was that it did not.) 

My experiences in school with clinical uniforms and work with clinical standards taught me to know the guidelines and know my rights, as well as to inform employers of proper accommodations for my head covering needs. If there’s a facility policy, it usually isn’t hard to find. For example, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing has a policy stating “For cultural or religious purposes, a solid navy blue, black, or white head-covering may be worn with the uniform scrubs.” And it’s right there alongside the rest of the uniform policies. In most encounters I had, I was either told something specific that was arbitrarily made up by the person I spoke to, or was told that there isn’t a policy, and to do my own research. 

When I was in school, I asked my instructor about my scarf and was told I needed to provide a letter from a religious authority (good thing my grandfather was a Rabbi with personal stationery!), and that my head covering had to be a solid color. I begged and borrowed for a burgundy scarf from everyone I knew. A year in, I met a student wearing what I’m pretty sure was the Wrapunzel Imagine That Scarf! When I asked her about it, she shrugged and said it didn’t occur to her to ask anyone, and nobody had ever approached her and told her a policy. When I worked in a hospital, I asked a coworker wearing a scarf. She said she had been working there when the hospital instituted their system of assigning a specific color uniform for each department. At the time, her supervisor had told her not to bring up scarves – she said “if they don’t talk with you about it, don’t ask! You’ll be the only pop of color left in the hospital!” At my current workplace, the Director of Nursing asked me to do the research and provide documentation showing that whatever I was wearing met guidelines, so that if ever there was a state inspection they could prove I was “clean enough.”

The result? Well, you’ve already seen a picture of me at work above, as well as other pictures of head coverings used by healthcare professionals. In addition, I’ve attached a very informative continuing education report that discusses my findings and more!

So tell us; what do you think?

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