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Nurse Bag Essentials: What to Know Before You Buy

Nurse bag: How to choose the right one

When you’re a nurse working 12-hour shifts at a time, a nurse bag is a must for storing your long list of necessities, be it personal items or healthcare equipment. The thing is, with such a wide variety of bags to choose from, it can be challenging to zero in on which style will best suit your needs.

Medical bags also make great gifts for both healthcare professionals and nursing students who recently graduated nursing school. Finding a bag that’s versatile will ensure your gift is well-appreciated and well-used. 

To help you out, we’ve created this guide on what to consider when picking out a nurse bag, whether it’s for yourself or your favorite nurse. Check out what features to keep in mind before you buy your next bag. 

What Nurse Bag Fits Your Style?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to work bags for medical professionals. Everyone has their own style and preferences. Nurse totes range from small compact cases to large duffel bags.

Here are some of the more popular nurse bag styles:

  • Backpack: This classic style brings back memories of school. With two shoulder straps, you can go hands-free and evenly distribute the weight so you don’t have one shoulder doing all the work. 
  • Crossbody or Sling: These bags have a single strap that goes across the chest with the bag hanging on your hip or on your back like a backpack.
  • Duffel Bag: Similar to the classic gym bag, duffels are larger and usually have a shoulder strap when you want to transport your belongings hands-free as well as two handles for carrying.
  • Messenger Bag: This style tends to have more storage than the crossbody or sling, and comes with one shoulder strap that can either go across the body or on the same side. These bags are often used to tote around a laptop.
  • Tote Bag: Totes usually have two straps that you can hold in your hand or hang on your shoulder and have ample storage.
  • Utility Bag: This bag mimics highly functional lunch boxes in size – it tends to have many pockets, compartments, and zippers without being a large bag.

If you prefer a larger tote, think about how you’ll be carrying it. Do you have to walk a while from the parking lot to the hospital or clinic? Maybe a crossbody or sling like this Vera Bradley Mini Sling would be ideal so your hands are free for the long walk. 

There’s also the classic two-shoulder strap backpack so you can carry everything from your lunch to a change of clothes and keep your hands and arms free as you make your way to the unit. 

If carrying a bag long-distance isn’t ideal for your arms or back, you might want to consider a bag that has a handle and wheels (like many traveling bags do these days). Nurse Mates has several traveler-style bags to keep your lunch and nursing supplies close by without straining your neck or back. 

You also want to consider color versus print when it comes to a nurse bag. Sometimes having a brightly colored bag will make sure everyone knows it yours like this compact Tie Dye Cotton Candy Sky carrying case.

Many bags have versatility built in – this Heartsoul bag features both handles and straps to turn it into a shoulder bag or backpack. Something like this would be great for a nursing student who may not know what they prefer until they start working full time. 

What Will Be the Function of Your Nurse Tote?

When picking out a nurse bag you need to think about how you’ll use it on a regular basis. It’s kind of like a Goldilocks scenario for functionality: You need to find a bag that’s not too big, not too small, but just right for your work setting and needs. 

If you work in the OR, you probably wear your own clothes into the hospital and change into scrubs when you get there. Rather than relying on a locker, many nurses use their own bag to store their “street clothes.” As such, a compact carry case that only fits your stethoscope and penlight won’t be ideal, but a small gym bag could be perfect. 

If you work in an outpatient setting and only need a small bag to carry your makeup and lunch money, a smaller bag would be perfect. Vera Bradley makes a trendy belt bag reminiscent of the popular 90s fanny packs. 

If you only need a nurse bag to hold your lunch and a couple of other things, a lunchbox-sized bag would do the trick. Nurse Mates has several functional medical tool bags that are just slightly larger than a lunchbox, making for great nurse totes. 

How Many Compartments Do You Need?

Keswi nursing scrubs

Another thing to think about when it comes to nurse bag functionality is how many pockets you need. Are you happy with one large main compartment to stash your necessities or do you prefer things to be divided into sections so you can easily grab a penlight or your wallet?

A quick way to figure out your preference is to think about your scrubs. Do you wear scrub tops with multiple pockets and pen loops or do you prefer a more minimalist approach with one large pocket? If you like your supplies to have their own specific space, finding a bag with multiple pockets to store your things will probably be more appealing. But if you don’t mind (or prefer) having one large pocket that holds everything together – a single compartment tote will probably fit your preferences. 

Most nursing tote bags are multi-pocket, so you can keep things organized. Is one or two pockets enough or do you prefer having specific pen pockets, scissor pockets, and snack pockets? Having a bag with clear or mesh pockets can also help you locate things quickly. 

This Island Tote Bag has a large open pocket, perfect for stashing your jacket or lab coat – but it also has a few interior slip pockets to keep your mints and cash separately. 

If you want a bag that keeps your medical equipment in its place so you can easily grab it with one hand (especially in a hurry), then a bag with multiple storage compartments and side pockets is ideal. The Nurse Mates Ultimate Nursing Bag has pen slots, places for your stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and even has a snap closure section for charts and documents if needed. 

How Durable Does Your Nursing Bag Need to Be?

Durability is another important consideration when picking out the ultimate nursing bag. If you work in home healthcare and are constantly using your nursing bag to store supplies, carry blood tests or other potentially hazardous materials, having a water-resistant and heavy-duty bag is a must.

You’ll want to choose a nurse bag with zippered compartments to ensure contents stay in place because the last thing you want is a urine sample rolling around your car. 

When it comes to durable fabrics for nurse bags, consider nylon, canvas, and leather – these are all long-lasting materials and (except for leather), easy to clean. 

Durability also applies to keeping things inside your bag safe from hazardous exposure. If you work in a hospital or somewhere that has a lot of traffic, you want a secure space to keep your food and drinks. This Vera Bradley backpack features both zippered pockets and a water-repellent exterior to keep your lunch safe from the elements (either rain or other hospital hazards!)

Consider a Personalized Nurse Tote Bag

Since a nursing tote is a common item for nurses to have, it can be easy to mix them up with your coworkers’ nursing bags. Personalizing your tote with monogrammed embroidery or personalized pins are two ways to reduce the risk of mistaken tote identity. 

You can also personalize your work bag with an ID tag, similar to what you would put on luggage, or even a fun ribbon on the handle. In other words, personalize your bag with anything that would make someone pause and say, “Hmm … I don’t think I put that on my bag.” 

Find Your Next Nurse Bag Today

High-quality nurse totes combine function and fashion, both of which are unique for every nurse. When you focus on the functionality you need as well as your personal preference for carrying things (hand-held, shoulder strap, or hands-free) you can find a bag that seems like it was made just for you. 

When you pair your nurse bag with your favorite scrub set, you feel confident and ready to tackle whatever your shift throws your way.

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