Sunday, December 18, 2011

A blue uniform is a blue uniform

The nursing students in a licensed practical nurse program in the Northeast are required to wear a specific color uniform to their classes - a basic royal blue set of medical scrubs consisting of a top and bottoms.

An owner of one of the area stores selling scrubs has discovered that one of the program instructors is telling students to purchase a brand of scrubs only sold at a particular store. The store to which the students are being directed is not the one owned by the reader who found out about the instructor's directions.

"The color is what is important," the reader writes, not the brand. "Our store carries the required color, but we are losing business to the other store as she (the instructor) is partial to that business." Other shops in the area that sell scrubs may also be losing out on sales to these students.

The LPN program takes place as a public school.

"It does not seem ethical that a public employee should be able to influence where a student purchases a uniform," the reader writes. "The scrub shop getting the business has not bid on supplying the uniforms to the school."

The reader believes that students have no idea that other vendors in the area offer medical scrubs and uniforms.

"I have spoken with the head of the nursing program about my concern that, as business owners, we only wanted to be treated fairly," the reader writes. "She did not seem to think there was anything wrong with the instructor being partial to only one local business.

"I have no way of knowing if perhaps this instructor has some sort of vested interest in the store she is recommending. Maybe she does. Maybe she does not. Regardless, we are losing a lot of business because of her, not to mention future sales."

The reader would like to know my thoughts.

If the instructor does have some vested interest, she is clearly out of line and likely breaking some law. But, as my reader points out, there is no evidence that this is the case.

If it truly makes no difference what brand of scrubs the nursing students wear, then the right thing is for the instructor and others in the program to let students know they are free to buy their scrubs wherever they like as long as they are the required style and color. If the instructor truly believes that the quality of a particular brand of scrubs is better, she has the right to let students know this, but it's wrong for her to suggest that there's only one place to buy them if that's not the case.

The right thing for the reader and other vendors in the area is to market their scrubs to the students as aggressively as they desire to let students know that they have a choice in where they make their purchases.

But a recommendation is not a requirement and if the instructor is simply recommending a particular store because she likes the quality of the goods and the service of the sellers, that's her prerogative. It's up to the other owners to convince their prospective customers that their store is a better selection than the instructor's merchant of choice.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal
Responsibility in Today's Business
and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


yawningdog said...

Talk directly to that teacher. Bring with you a list of names and addresses of all the businesses in town that sell scrubs. That way she/he can list everyone in her syllabus and be done with it. You might still lose business if the instructor decides to include everywhere that the students can buy scrubs. Many of them will turn to the internet.

William Jacobson said...

Recommendations are biased by nature and need to be earned. I don't see where the teacher is required to provide unbiased advice. The teacher's bias is likely swayed by much more than just color of the scrubs. It would seem that years of experience on the price, quality, durability, and availability of the scrubs and the way the owner treats him and his students would come into play. Any owner that complained to my dean about me not recommending them may well lose my recommendation permanently.

The complaining owner hasn't lost these sales. He has failed to compete and earn them in the first place. What he has done is recognized a potential untapped market that with a little creativity he may be able to gain sales from. The glass is potentially half full. Welcome to the marketplace.

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA