Healthcare workers in the US are expected to maintain a conservative appearance, from hair styles to dress to lack of body modifications. The American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education reported in “Tattoos in the Workplace: How Appearance Policies Affects Health Care Jobs” that virtually all medical professions have a section of the employee handbook dedicated to tattoos and piercings and that many practices and institutions have policies that prohibit such body modifications¹. Even though tattoos and piercings in medical settings may be banned, the AIMS reported in 2015 that about 42% of adults in the United States have tattoos¹ and, as reported by Cameron Axford in his article “Not All Angles Have Wings: Some Have Tattoos”, medicine has a higher that average portion of workers with some sort of body modification². Although employers, in medicine as other fields, say that they would hire people with tattoos, especially if they can be easily concealed, body modification discrimination may occur when one is trying to move up within their practice; physicians and those in administration or management are less likely to have visible tattoos and feel that having tattoos or piercings could be detrimental for those who aspire to grow professionally¹.
Marijke Durning, author of the 2011 piece “Too Tattooed to be a Nurse?”, explained that it is very common for students who are entering into classes or programs within the medical field are told that visible tattoos are not permitted and that certain schools do not allow students in their nursing programs to have any tattoos in visible areas, banning long sleeve under shirts and bandages from their standard uniforms³. As noted in the 2018 article “Hospital Ditches Outdated Dress Code: tattoos and Neon Hair Allowed” by Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN, the “professional” appearance of medical staff has evolved from nurses wearing short white dresses with stockings to practical scrubs and still today, the idea of what a nurse or medical assistant “should” look like is changing ⁴. Some tattoos and piercings, such as nose rings or “tribal” tattoos, have various religious or cultural meanings tied to them and employers and patients alike respect them².
Slowly, practices and health systems are beginning to make concrete changes. The Indiana University Health System has recently revamped their employee handbook and reduced their dress code of 50 pages to a mere five, partly because of the elimination of the portions of the guide that restricted visible piercing and tattoos, as well as unnatural hair colors ⁴. Some tattoos can be offensive or triggering to others, so there should be a line to what is acceptable and what is not, but even that line can be hard to define. Patients have a tendency to speak inappropriately about and to medical workers about tattoos—even if they are not of an offensive nature— as well as looks or even race, proving that many have unfair biases². Perhaps completely eliminating rules about tattoos and piercings is not plausible, but by keeping the restrictions limited to a few lines barring body modifications are completely offensive in nature, medical personnel can worry more about patient care and less on sweating through long sleeves to cover a wrist tattoo.
People with tattoos are not looked down upon in the same way as they were ten years ago, but people are still prejudged based on their body modifications; this can prevent people from getting a job (especially in medicine), getting promoted or even being taken seriously. Change in the public’s perception about those with tattoos and piercings will not happen overnight, but by allowing medical staff to expose their body modifications can start changing minds. Only a few short years ago, seeing even a small tattoo on a medical professional would have been unheard of and only a few years prior, it would be outrageous to see an MA or RN with more than one piercing in his or her ears—the more society is exposed to something, the more accepted a “taboo” becomes and body modifications are a great example of this. Within time, perhaps the sight of a tattoo on someone in the medical field will not turn any heads at all, but in order for that to happen, exposure of body modifications in the field needs to start; the stereotype that people, with tattoos and piercings are delinquents or brutish and unintelligent will slowly start diminishing.
- “Tattoos in the workplace: How appearance policies affect healthcare jobs.” 18 March 2015. American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education. 13 October 2018. <https://www.aimseducation.edu/blog/tattoos-in-the-workplace-healthcare-jobs-appearance-policies/>.
- Axford, C. “‘Not all angels have wings. Some have tattoos’: Healthcare workers in favour of workplace ink, survey says.” 8 April 2016. National Post. 13 October 2018. <https://nationalpost.com/news/not-all-angels-have-wings-some-have-tattoos-healthcare-workers-in-favour-of-workplace-ink>.
- Durning, M. “Too tattooed to be a nurse?” 2011. ScrubsMag.com. 15 October 2018. <https://scrubsmag.com/too-tattooed-to-be-a-nurse/amp/>.
- Brusie, C. “Hospital ditches outdated dress code: Tattoos and neon hair allowed.” 5 September 2018. Nurse.org. 15 October 2018. <https://nurse.org/articles/indiana-university-health-tattoos-piercings/>.