Can Doctors Have Tattoos?

Establishing a good doctor-patient relationship is one of the most crucial elements of proper treatment and health care. However, what happens when a doctor doesn’t really conform to the standard ‘doctor image’ and shakes the patient’s trust by having a visible, or any tattoo?

Well, this is a tricky topic. In the past decade, the medical school and medical staff, in general, have become more progressive, so much so that doctors having tattoos is a completely normal occurrence. However, there are still some dilemmas whether the tattoos should be visible or not and whether they shake the patient’s trust towards the doctor.

In the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at some misconceptions in regards to doctors with tattoos and what we as patients can expect from these untraditional medical professionals.

Can Doctors Have Tattoos?

Beautiful tattooed young doctor using her hand to check the eyes of her patient
Image Credit: Saved Tattoo

Traditional Appearance and Trust

Some studies have found that patients prefer and trust more doctors who appear like traditional doctors. Such doctors are very well put together, wear traditional attire like a white coat or blue scrubs, and are generally the embodiment of a healthy, proper doctor whom we should look up to.

Patients are believed to be more satisfied with a traditional looking doctor since they associate it with professionalism and proper behavior, not only in the hospital but also in their private life.

Even when it comes to doctors talking about tattoos, it is surprising to see that more than 40% of doctors do NOT approve of tattoos in medical professionals and staff. Sure, a lot of doctors are in favor of tattoos, but even then, they believe the tattoos should be completely covered during work. So, where do we draw the line between personal and professional life and one affecting the other?

In an ideal world, doctors would be able to wear their tattoos openly and proudly, and still earn their patient’s trust based on their good work, not their appearance. But, people have been exposed to the ‘traditional image of a doctor’ for so long that any departure from such an image shakes the patient’s trust.

There have been cases where patients would ask for another doctor because their doctor had a visible tattoo. Even though the doctor was doing their job perfectly, they still had to fall victim of generalization and negative misconceptions about tattoos.

Departure From Tradition

At least 38% of adults in the U.S. and UK have tattoos. The numbers are even higher for the younger people. So, why does it seem that every other professional allows acts of self-expression, but the rules seem strict for medics?

The truth is, many doctors, especially the younger ones, have started to depart from the traditional appearance and started regarding self-expression as their right. Even though some colleagues and patients would react to the tattoos negatively, some doctors simply want to prove that just because they have a tattoo doesn’t mean they’re less professional or that they’re bad at what they do.

It is believed that some patients even find doctors with tattoos more approachable and friendly than the ones without a tattoo. Sure, being presentable is always a must, but some patients simply are more open about their issues if a doctor seems ‘human’ as well.

Doctor-Patient Relationship Studies

To test the general idea that patients do not trust doctors with tattoos, there have been many studies observing the doctor-patient relationship where the doctor has a visible, real or fake, tattoo.

One such study, published by the Emergency Medicine Journal showcased the relationship between tattooed doctors and their patients. In the study, 7 emergency room doctors took part and had to wear either fake piercings, stick-on tattoos, or neither of those, for 9 months during work with their patients. One doctor had a full sleeve tattoo on both arms, but during the study, he covered the sleeve tattoos with a white coat.

After 9 months, all of the patients (924 in total) were surveyed about satisfaction with these doctors. The patients were over the age of 18 and were not aware of the purpose of the study. They were all asked about the professionalism, competence, and reliability of the doctors. The doctors were also evaluated according to their approachability, empathy, and trustworthiness.

Out of 7 doctors, 5 doctors made it to the final study. One doctor felt uncomfortable wearing fake tattoos, while the other one didn’t have enough patients.

The results of the study were as follows;

  • There was no difference in the way patients perceived the doctors, with or without the tattoos or piercings.
  • All doctors were surveyed positively, regardless of the tattoos and piercings.
  • The age of the patients didn’t affect their perception of the doctors.
  • The majority of the patients didn’t even notice the doctors had any tattoos or piercings.
  • The patients who did notice a doctor had a tattoo usually responded by saying they like the tattoo.

As we can see from this study, patients were completely fine with their doctors having tattoos or piercings. No one had a problem with the untraditional appearance of the doctors, and some even found it cool that the doctors had tattoos. All the patients were completely satisfied with the doctors’ professionalism, empathy, care, and treatment they received.

Surely, the perception of doctors and their self-expression through body art is changing, and what was once taboo and unacceptable, is nowadays completely normal. However, this doesn’t mean that every community is accepting of doctors with tattoos. Sure, more conservative societies would be critical of such departure from tradition even nowadays.

So, even though this particular study, and many other studies, shows a positive reaction to doctors with tattoos, many still advise doctors to get tattooed in some easily hidden place or to cover their tattoos during work. Some doctors believe that the patient shouldn’t have to be focused on the tattoo but the doctor.

doctor has tattoo
Saved Tattoo

What About Hospital Policies?

Truth is, the majority of hospitals do have certain policies regarding tattoos, placement of tattoos, and their visibility. The rules surely vary from one hospital to the other, but almost every hospital policy indicates tattoos to be covered during work hours.

However, there are some hospitals and clinics where doctors and medical staff are allowed to have a visible tattoo. But, there are also hospitals where doctors and medical staff cannot have tattoos, not even covered ones. The same goes for piercings.

Even though these are all unwritten rules, the problem lies in the ability of an employer to come up with dress code and appearance policies for the employees. Sure, no one should be discriminated against for their choices, and these choices should not be the reason one has a lack of work opportunities. But, again, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) permits employers to come up with policies for dress code and appearance on their own.

What do We Think?

Surely, we at SavedTattoo don’t have a problem with tattooed doctors. Our doctors and medical professionals are humans of different life stories, backgrounds, and ideals. Just because they have tattoos or piercings does it mean they won’t do a good job. Tattoos and piercings won’t compromise a doctor’s ability to take care of you and your health.

Unfortunately, many people associate tattoos and piercings with bad and socially unacceptable behavior. Especially when it comes to the older generations, tattoos often indicate mistrust, lack of care towards oneself, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, etc.

But, tattoos simply show that our doctors have lives outside the hospital. Their job is to worry about our lives, but they’re human and they need to be able to self express without anyone feeling offended by such an act.

Surely, we don’t believe doctors should walk around the hospital with obscene tattoos that would genuinely make people uncomfortable and offended. But if the tattoos are creative, classy, and done with taste, then we don’t really see a problem in doctors having tattoos.

Check out below resources if you want to give it a try:

Final Thoughts

Overall, we can say that despite some negative misconceptions, there has been a tattoo revolution and the way doctors with tattoos are perceived. If we were to write such an article 10 or 15 years ago, maybe the conclusion would’ve been different. But now, we can say that doctors can surely have tattoos and choose to express themselves however they want; with tattoos, piercings, or even crazy hair color.

Surely, the doctors do need to follow the hospital policies, and if asked to cover their tattoos, to do so. It is also best not to get obscene or possibly offensive tattoos anywhere visible. You don’t want to make your patient uncomfortable, despite your good work or no intention to offend.

Surely, your appearance doesn’t define you, nor does it define your competence. It can be hard to juggle between personal and professional life, especially if you’re a doctor. So, try to find a middle ground, consult with your superiors, and act according to your hospital policies.

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