People in your Neighborhood: La Jolla nurse practitioner puts medical and fashion sense to work on scrubs

La Jolla resident Kathryn Dickson, a Scripps Health nurse practitioner, makes a line of scrubs called OliveUs.
(Ken Frantz)

Combining the seemingly contrasting interests of nursing and fashion, La Jolla resident Kathryn Dickson, a Scripps Health Emergency Department nurse practitioner, has her own line of scrubs that she says offers medical professionals more comfort and function than the current standard.

Dickson grew up in Rancho Santa Fe but during her teens often found herself in La Jolla to volunteer at Scripps Memorial Hospital and take sewing classes.

“I always had these ... childhood passions for fashion and nursing, as I was doing both of them at the same time in this neighborhood,” she said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of San Diego, Dickson was stationed at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas with the hope of being transferred to Scripps La Jolla.

When that happened seven years ago, she still noticed a lingering problem of ill-fitting scrubs.

“In school, I remember wishing I had more space for my stuff and I didn’t have to cover my chest with my hand every time I bent over to check on a patient,” Dickson said. “I’m literally trying to take care of patients and have to worry about myself and being professional in my clothes, even though I’m in the correct uniform and in the most size-fitting stuff for myself. How are you supposed to take care of your patients if you’re worried about what you’re wearing?”

“To help with some nursing retention and kind of give back to our nurses, to make them safe and comfortable, [is important].”

— Kathryn Dickson

She started by tailoring the scrubs she already wore to make them more comfortable and adding pockets to fit in more equipment. She soon created a custom holder for stethoscopes on the waist.

“I was wearing a fanny pack at the time because the scrub pockets didn’t have everything I needed in them and I would tuck my stethoscope into the fanny pack,” Dickson said. “But then when you go to the bathroom, you have to take it off. It’s kind of just a hassle, so you end up leaving it on the counter somewhere. Everyone I know has had their stethoscope at lost and found and left on counters with all their stuff.”

Further, she said, there is a hazard in carrying a stethoscope around one’s neck. “A stethoscope is a tool almost all medical professionals always need on hand, [but] wearing a stethoscope around your neck is a serious workplace hazard. From transmitting bacteria to being an ergonomic risk factor and having the potential of being a serious choking hazard, the stethoscope should never be worn around your neck.”

Soon, people she worked with asked Dickson to alter their scrubs and eventually started offering to pay her for her sewing services.

“I dreamed of making my own scrubs, but I wasn’t really thinking of this as like a large business,” Dickson said.

But three years ago, she took the plunge and launched the brand OliveUs, marketing it on social media and through word of mouth.

The scrubs sold well at first, then sales plateaued.

Now, Dickson said, “I’m kind of exploring the different routes of either doing a business-to-business sale and getting some of the money upfront and then custom-making those scrubs to the different companies that need them. Those that buy them can have a nurse-made product that’s much more functional. ... To help with some nursing retention and kind of give back to our nurses, to make them safe and comfortable, [is important].”

Learn more about the brand at ◆