Not too long ago, having a visible tattoo was considered a barrier to getting hired. The mere presence of a tattoo would more often than not automatically disqualify you from many jobs.
But things have changed. Nowadays, three in 10 Americans have at least one tattoo. And as tattoos have become more common, many workplaces have relaxed their views and policies on body art.
With those perceptions changing, you might ask, “Can nurses and medical professionals have tattoos?” The National Student Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association have no official rule or recommendation about whether or not it’s acceptable for nurses to have tattoos. Depending on the facility, you might not have to cover your tattoos to get and keep a job.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t run into judgment or issues if you happen to have a visible tattoo. Below we’ll explain the stigmas of having tattoos as a nurse and the positive and negative considerations of having a tattoo in the nursing profession.
Can Nurses Have Tattoos?
There’s no universal stance from nursing authorities on whether or not nurses can have tattoos. That being said, the facility you work for may have policies on body art. Hospitals, nursing homes, home health care facilities, clinics, and schools will have different types of policies, usually based on where you work and who you work with.
Some body art policies are stricter than others and can include any of the following:
- Cover up any tattoo completely with long sleeves or bandages
- No tattoos above the collar or on your lower arms, including your hands
- No visible tattoos when wearing scrubs
- And on a related note, require the removal of any body piercings, including earrings
As a nurse, it’s more common nowadays that you’ll be able to get away with having a tattoo, even if you work for a facility that normally doesn’t allow them in its dress code. Workplaces don’t normally hire someone and then ask them to get their tattoos removed.
But keep in mind, you might be asked to cover up visible tattoos. If you have a tattoo in a location that’s easily coverable, like on top of your foot where it’ll be covered by a sock and a shoe, you more than likely won’t run into issues.
Tattoos’ Impact on Patients
Tattoos can have one of two effects on patients: either patients will react positively or generally neutral to them, or they won’t. If you have visible tattoos, be ready to deal with the good or the bad when it comes to patients’ reactions.
The history of tattoos and their acceptance is long and complicated, but it helps to understand that one of the reasons tattoos can be such a touchy subject is the stigma they may carry.
Decades ago, many people associated tattoos with prisoners, illegal activities, and rebellious behavior. Over the years, the stigma has diminished with younger generations, and it’s become normal for people of any background to get them. But for older generations, many still may subconsciously think of piercings and tattoos as a mark of criminal behavior. In these cases, these patients might not trust you or open up to you easily.
Another long-held stigma has to do with the process of getting a tattoo. Although the modern tattoo process is nowadays fairly sanitary, you might find that some people view body art as unhygienic or dirty. As a health care professional, you’ll want to project to your patients that you’re a model of good health and wellbeing with your professional appearance, regardless if you have a visible tattoo or not.
Even though some patients and their family members may look at tattoos in a negative light, you’ll also find that many patients will react positively.
For example, your tattoos can be an icebreaker for your patients, and that can result in better overall communication and care. Every tattoo has a reason or story behind the ink, even if it’s a simple one. Sharing your story can get patients to open up to you and trust you. Maybe they’ve gone through a similar experience or admire a similar art style as you.
Or perhaps your patient has a tattoo and wants to share a story of their own. As society’s perspectives on tattoos shift, you can use your tattoo to foster a deeper connection with your patients.
Regardless of how your patients view your tattoos, you may encounter family members who dislike or disapprove of body art in the medical profession. While it can be frustrating to work with individuals who treat you negatively over your tattoo, always be professional and put forth your best efforts to develop a positive relationship. You may never see eye-to-eye, but you can still provide the best care to your patients.
Getting a Work-Friendly Tattoo
If you’re already a nurse with an established career and you’re thinking about getting your first tattoo, check out your company’s policy on body art and piercings to see what it says. If you’re comfortable following the company’s policies and getting a tattoo while at your current place of work, here are some factors to consider:
- Size: If your tattoo is small or unnoticeable, it can be easy to cover up. Larger tattoos tend to be more difficult to cover, and if your employer requires all tattoos to be covered, this could be an issue. Think about what size you want your tattoo to be, and if you’ll have the ability to fully or partially hide it.
- Content: Names and artwork are generally considered inoffensive. But nudity, drug use, gang symbols, and provocative language could be considered offensive to patients and coworkers. If you think your potential tattoo may alarm some patients or cause long-term problems with your current and future employers, maybe reconsider the content of your tattoo.
- Location: Think about where on your body you want your tattoo. While your company may have a relaxed policy now, you don’t know if you’ll always be working for them or if that policy could change. Be prepared to cover up your tattoo if you switch jobs. Hand, neck, and face tattoos are the most difficult to cover up and keep out of sight.
Maintaining a Professional Appearance
Properly covering up or displaying tattoos is just one way to maintain a professional appearance. When treating patients, you want to look clean and hygienic while maintaining your company’s dress code. It might not sound fair, but any sign of a lack of cleanliness, even if it isn’t the reality, can be a barrier to some patients’ abilities to trust you.
Here are some tips for maintaining a professional appearance as a nurse:
- Wear solid colored scrubs
- Use light makeup
- Limit the perfumes and scents you wear, especially since some patients can be allergic or sensitive
- Practice good hygiene
- Secure long hair for your safety as well as your patients’ safety
- Follow company policies for tattoos and piercings
No matter what type of dress code your facility has, strive to present yourself in an approachable, professional manner to colleagues and patients. Your patients’ trust and comfort are a priority, and your personal appearance goes a long way in making a good impression and encouraging that good communication can happen.