Do Nursing and Tattoos Go Well Together?

By Kim Holland on Fri, Jun 27, 2014

nursing tattoosTattoos are growing in popularity and social acceptance. In all walks of life people—nurses included—are using their bodies as canvases for ink. If you are precepting a nurse in their twenties, it is likely that they have one or more tattoos.

With a wide gap of generations in the workplace, we must be willing to objectively discuss our thoughts on nursing and tattoos. And first, we should understand why people are getting them.

Basic Reasons For and Against Tattoos

  • Documenting a “non-permanent" relationship or favorite vice (favorite beer)
  • Because “all my friends are getting them”
  • Just because you like the design

Even according to tattoo artists, these reasons are not based on common sense.

Considerations for Healthcare Professionals

Beyond the basic reasons to get or not get a tattoo, there are several other points to consider. The anthropology argument conveys the idea that humans have always decorated themselves for attention. According to Kuwahara (2005), reasons might include:

  • Showing status
  • Declaring power
  • Expressing insecurity
  • Simply for decoration

The bottom line is the need to be noticed. Prior to permanently broadcasting these things on your body, you might first do some soul searching. For example, you definitely won't be happy with a tattoo you got just to annoy your parents.

In nursing, the arguments about tattoos become broader. Many healthcare organizations have appearance policies that restrict tattoos from being visible or “excessive." Leadership defines “excessive” and they may not be interested in why someone chose to tattoo themselves.  They will be interested in protecting the professional image of their organization, which is well within their right.

As nurses, we must be aware that many of our patients are of a generation that sees tattooing as taboo and an uneducated practice. This may make them initially question the nurse’s competence and judgment.

Finally, there is the argument that the professional image of nursing is at stake. Although healthcare is changing and becoming more open to this societal trend, a heavily tattooed individual will have difficulty being considered for the CNO position in most organizations. The definition of “professional image” does not appear to be changing anytime soon.

Here are three things to keep in mind if you are in a healthcare field:

  1. If you are working with young nurses who have tattoos, be supportive and realize there are many reasons for getting tattoos.

  2. If you choose to get a tattoo, consider placement and size carefully. That way, your art does not violate an appearance standard where you work or is unpractical to cover if you are on duty. Consider the professional image you are portraying to the public and your current or future employers.

  3. Tattoos are forever. If you do get one, make sure it is not one you will regret.

Ten years from now, our resumes will have improved and become more marketable. Whatever our individual thoughts on tattoos and nursing, we all can agree that we want our appearance to keep up with our success.

Reference

Kuwahara, M. (2005). Tattoo: An anthropology. Berg Publishers.

What are your thoughts on nurses getting tattoos?



39 COMMENTS

Angela Bigsby 2 months ago
Currently reading The Look of Nursing subsection of Chapter 2: The Contemporary Image of Professional Nursing within the textbook titled Contemporary Nursing: Issues, Trends, & Management. The chapter is written by a Lillian Antoinette Bargagliotti, who appears to have a reputation of significant positive contributions to the nursing profession and nursing literature over the years. In the section of writing in question, Bargagliotti makes some excruciatingly ignorant, judgmental, hypocritical, stereotyped, and profiled comments about nurses and nursing students in relation to personal appearances and professionalism in modern day. Bargagliotti then continues the section with a paragraph regarding how 85% of student nurses are not members of the NSNA and that there are similar numbers of membership and participation within the ANA as well post licensure. First, as a student who is literally mandated by my school to provide proof of membership to the NSNA, let me say that of the 15% membership they do retain - a great many are under duress. Second, why on earth would I want to willingly participate in supporting the continuation of the dissemination of antiquated, ignorant, hypocritical, judgmental, closed-minded, undermining, demeaning, unprofessional, biased, economic class system based, laterally violent beliefs and behaviors that the representatives of such organizations (like Lillian Antoinette Bargagliotti) hold and publish no less? Dear Lillian Antoinette Bargagliotti, you (and your cohorts like you) are just as damaging (if not more so) to the publicly held image of nursing professionals and the nursing shortage as is any tattoo I might choose to display. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, your behavior discourages students from even considering nursing as a viable profession and perpetuates the vapid belief that tattoos=stupid.

Anonymous 2 months ago
Dear Olivia, there are not currently 52 states, that said, you stating that there are makes you sound ignorant and completely negates anything positive or helpful that you may have previously been able to impress upon the community...

Olivia Morrissette 2 months ago
Tattoos are legal in all 52 states, and anyone over the age of 18 can have them done without parent or guardian consent. After that, it's all on you--you just have to decide for yourself whether an employer someday blah blah blah. Me? I would never, ever have a tattoo. I have clothing and jewelry that I don't wear anymore because for whatever reason, they're no longer "me", and it's a certainty I'd also feel that way about permanent ink. On the other hand, the subject interests me greatly, I've done a little reading, and have gained this perspective: Before you have this permanent change done to the only neck, chest, sacrum, or arms you'll ever have, please research the tattoo artists in your area; take your time; educate yourself; and in the end, choose one who is really, really good. The critical word here is "artist". You'll want to be thrilled with it, and you'll want it to look great for the rest of your life. (The rest of your life. The rest of your life.)

Allen Bright 4 months ago
Tattoos are a personal decision. I have worked with many doctors,nurses and healthcare workers that have been inked. Many of these healthcare professionals are as or more talented than your traditional provider. I strongly believe you should have good hygiene and come to work in proper attire. What's the difference in a tattoo or wearing print scrubs or glittery/ leopard print clogs to work. None! I do not personal have tattoos because I don't like needle stings. Quit judging people on their appearance and more on their performance. As for the ignorant comments regarding, HIV teaching , you might want to brush up yourself on your knowledge of HIV. I glad your not providing education to patients with your lack of knowledge. Having tattoos equal HIV? Ignorance still remains. Healthcare workers stop judging unless your judging yourself first. I am sure if you look hard enough you can find a flaw, you could be judged. Most importantly, if a patient is willing for you to wipe their butt or catch their vomit, I don't think they should be worried about a persons looks. I remember not to far back when certain patients of a generation would request only to have a certain race or sex to take care of them. Was this okay?

Geoff Garvin 4 months ago
There is obviously a portion of society that might not like the nurse having tattoos. However with the popularity of tattoos today having them could in fact help a nurse make better connections with a large portion of patients.

Anonymous 5 months ago
Really as nurses should we be judged if we have tattoos or not? Should we be made to cover them up with band aids and treat our pt.s? Maybe we should be made to weigh a certain amount and look a certain way to exemplify our teachings? Humm.

Anonymous 6 months ago
I think just cause someone gets tattoos that are visible does not make them a horrible person, and it doesn't make them less of a professional! I think it's good for every generation to be exposed to the art of tattooing, it helps them learn that you shouldn't pass judge on people based on there physical differences. It should be about the individual's capability not their choice to express themselves by getting tattooed. As a heavily tattooed female I don't judge people who aren't tattooed so don't do it to the individuals are! You are going to miss out on some very amazing people if you decide to pass that judge. There are good and bad people no matter what. Tattoos or no tattoos seriously! The judgement you are passing might want you to rethink the character of yourself. Nurses should be able to have ink if they want!

Hailey Baker 8 months ago
I am I school to go into the nursing program and to eventually become a nurse practitioner and I want a LOT of tattoos including a sleeve on my left arm and a few on my right. I want to go into pediatrics, women s health, neonatal and maybe become a midwife. My fiance is almost out of the Navy and the places we have talked about living are northern California, Louisiana(his home state) and Colorado. I am curious to know what I should expect if I go along with my tattoo plans. I also know nurses can wear those scrub jackets if I am correct??

Anonymous 11 months ago
It'll be profiling just because we are a Nurse dosn't mean we sold our soul.. it is plane none of our business, We have a Career not a end of our life Degree after four years.

Kirstin Barter 11 months ago
I think a nurse should be required to cover any visible tattoos with a breathable type of fabric tattoo covering adhesive, inventors, that's your hint! (especially in geriatrics for above reasons, and pediatrics since many parents would not appreciate the example it would set for their children)

Anonymous 2 months ago
FYI inventors, some of us are also allergic to adhesives and would not appreciate such a thing at all, never mind the infringement upon our basic personal right to express ourselves in non-offensive ways as we see fit.

Samantha Picchi 12 months ago
I am currently working on my nursing degree, I have two half lower sleeves, one on my hand, and want my fingers done. I am hesitant on the finger tattoos because I am not sure if it will be accepted in the field.

Bryan Barnes 12 months ago
I am also a male nurse and have tattoos on both forearms. I have had more issues with management than I ever did with patients regarding my tattoos. Most patients even complimenting me on my choice of tattoos. If there were any negativity related to my tattoos, it was quickly changed when they realized the quality of care they received.

wesling ducos 1 year ago
I'm currently a male nurse with 2 full sleeves down to my wrists and I sometimes wear long-sleeves and some days I don't. I haven't had any issues with patients and while at first other staff used to look at me funny they all eventually saw me for who I was and not my tattoos. Recently, I was recognized for my skills and asked to join the team at our cardiac PCU unit. Nurses CAN have tattoos and CAN move up in their career with them. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Anonymous 2 years ago
I became a nurse in 1989, and my 1st hospital gig required whites and caps. I have a large forearm tattoo, which was always covered at work....not due to a policy.....due to respect. I was well aware of how (then most, now mostly elderly) patients viewed tattoos, and was brought up to respect others. Patients are generally physically uncomfortable and not at their best, so I had to be at my best. I do agree that nurses deserve respect and should not be judged by tattoos, however, we as professionals (especially us girls) need to keep in mind the state of mind of those in our care. Are we not to provide comfort as well as skilled nursing? If it may upset your patient, cover it up. It is all about respecting your patients, even if you don't like or agree withy them. On the flip-side, I ran into a woman in a check-out line at a local supermarket (not a patient...a total stranger) after a paticularly long and gruelling shift. My white sleeves were rolled up, and the woman indignantly commented "How can you be a nurse with that THING on your arm?. My reply "Lady, I can wipe your ass as good as any other nurse with or without a tattoo. Like I said, it's all about respect.

Anonymous 2 months ago
It is all about respect... respect my personal right to do with my body what I want to in my own free time and leave it at that! It isn't like I had a penis being sucked off tattooed on my forehead and am demanding that your small child or grandmother look at it! All I keep hearing about is nursing shortage, nursing shortage, blah, blah, wah, wah... stop being so judgmental and discriminatory that the general public assumes they wouldn't be allowed to be nurses!

Anonymous 2 years ago
and to Pat F, thank you for being a judgemental pompous example of why I am occasionally embarrassed to identify myself as an RN. Maybe we should keep certain ethnicities out of nursing as well, hmmm?

Anonymous 11 months ago
hmm for real

Anonymous 2 years ago
Not to many years ago, nurses all had to wear caps. Trends change. I have several tats and am planning a left sleeve for my 50th Birthday this winter. My tattoos in no way change the high standard of care my patients get. If you don't like them, then don't look at them. And I dig girls with tattoos so maybe I have a biased opinion on my female colleagues sporting ink.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I have tattoos, a half sleeve on my right arm. While I don't feel I;ve ever missed out on job opportunities because of my tattoos all my employers have had no visible tattoo policies so I do have to keep them covered at work. I found some Pink tattoo cover sleeves that look great with my scrubs and they keep my arms warm on our floor that always seems freezing! For those of you with tattoos, check out tat2x.com - They have awesome products for those of us that need to keep our ink covered.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I am an RN and have tattoos also including a 1/2 sleeve on my right arm. While I've found most hospitals to have 'no visible tattoo policies' the fact that I have tattoos has never prevented me from job opportunities. Most people are pretty excepting now. I do obviously have to cover them while at work. I found these really cute tattoo cover sleeves in Pink that I wear with my scrubs. Works perfectly also keeps me warm on the floor that seems to always be FREEEZING. For those nurses out their with tattoos, check out tat2x.com - to date, I have found nothing I would recommend more.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I think it depends on how big or how many and where. You should also consider what department you are working.

Angela Bigsby 2 months ago
There definitely should be some differentiation between a meaningful and non-offensive tattoo and something raunchy and grotesque as well. Content of the tattoo should come into play at some point.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I am a senior nurse in intensive care and i have tattoos including a half sleeve. My tattoos are for my family portraits and lettering. Never have i had a patient or relative complain about them i have worked and studied hard to get where i am and my ability to do my job act as a mentor instill best practice and be a positive role model has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact i have tattoos. As i told my mum, tattoos are who i am not what i am. Xx

Anonymous 3 years ago
I am looking into a career in the health industry. I've been told Paramedics often have tattoos but nurses / midwives are frowned upon for doing so unless they can cover them up. One of my arms is fully covered in tattoos..this has nothing to do with the way I would learn / treat a patient / the kind of person I am and I feel sad that people still judge me by first impressions. I dress smartly, have no piercings but still the tattoos mean I'm incapable of being a 'stand up' citizen and good person!

Anonymous 3 years ago
I have tattoos...but they are hidden. Show your individuality in your private life, not your work life. It is a standard of professionalism. End of story. Maybe it's not right, but it's how it is

Anonymous 3 years ago
Someone earlier said we as a profession are asked not to judge, with this being said, who has the right to say someone with a tat can't be a good nurse. Get over yourselves, we have more important things to worry about in healthcare today than tatoos, they have no impact on care!

Anonymous 3 years ago

I am 44 years old. I do not have a tatoo but know many nurses with sleeves as well as hidden tatoos. Nursing is about treating the whole person. I am not supposed to judge those with ideals, religions, or any other things that are different from my own thoughts, ideals, etc. Why are we judging our tattooed colleagues. All people need to grow and change as we age, based on our ecxperiences and our changing cultures. This is growing and it continues until we die. So those patients that don't like tattoes need to grow a little and meet some tatooed people so they can see that they are just real people like those of us who don't have a tattoo. "Being a generation who didn't do this" doesn't give anyone the right to devalue another based on appearance and that's all there is to it!


Anonymous 3 years ago

I love the 50's attitude. More pressing needs and issues than whether a tattoo is a taboo or a trend. I'm a 58 y.o nurse with legs and arms tatted. Been a nurse(male) for 14 years in Surgery and GI lab. Not one of my bosses ever felt I was not qualified because of that. Poor nurses are those that close their minds to people that are different than themselves. Would you provide substandard care for a patient with tats vs. without. What's the difference? It's not a judgement call, unless you make it. Many nurses have no desire to be a CNO; I was a middle manager in another career field prior to becoming a nurse. Not for me. I love nursing and hate hearing about issues like this that don't have any basis for determining whether you are a good nurse or not. There are a lot more important issues a person makes in life that lead to becoming a good nurse and tats are not one of those. My $.02


Anonymous 3 years ago

My employer has mandated attendence for Cultural Diversity classes. It doesn't seem fair minded that as employees we be exempt from this consideration! Yet we are.


Anonymous 3 years ago
I am of that other generation and cant stand tatoos. I am in the administrative end of nursing and even if you are more qualified I would not hire you and that is just fact. We are professionals and must look like one. This will be the attitude until my generation dies off so remember when you are using your body as a piece of paper there are patients out there that do NOT want to see them. So place them carefully.

marie enos 1 year ago
that is the problem wwith administration, judgmental , when quality of care is all that matters

Anonymous 3 years ago
I have 2 tats, 1 on my left shoulder to commenorate my son who passed and 2 of my favorite things a rose and a butterfly on my left upper arm. Both are tasteful and pretty and I don't mind showing them @ woek. I'm a DPS for home health agency and we dress business casual. I'll probably get a 3rd tat soon. I wouldn't work at a job where tats were not allowed. It's an imposition on my personal freedom; this is America, isn't it??

Anonymous 3 years ago
I have worked with 2 nurses that have multiple tattoos but were considerate whenat work they do cover them up to the best of their ability due to location. I do agree that body art is up to the individual but must be respectful of the employers request.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I am 47, a RN and consider my self open minded. I am in a management position and find it harder to employer nurses who do not have visible tattoos. True some tats that more of an artistic statement are more tolerable but some are not. Sleaved arms with numerous poor quality and this and that tattoos give the impression of tackiness, lack of self respect. I think you can judge a nurse by the tattoos they have exposed for all to see. I wish the younger generation would consider their future before they do this.

Anonymous 2 months ago
I disagree with her... but you sound ignorant and support her argument...

Anonymous 11 months ago
i new you was old with old way catcjh up with the new out with the old has been. Tattoos is cool

Anonymous 4 years ago

I think it’s unfair that people are being judged simply for having tattoos. Soon it will be difficult to find a person that doesn’t have a tattoo. But I understand that the people we care for may be from a different generation. The problem for me was I got my tattoos when I was 18. At that age you tend to live in the moment and don’t really consider how they might affect your future employment options. Luckily for me, only one of my tattoos is visible. The hospital I work for has a no visible tattoo policy so I do have to cover it for work. Thankfully there are some great product’s on the market for professionals with tattoos. For those that have ink and are looking for an easy cover-up solution besides makeup, check out tattoo cover sleeves sold by tat2x – they are really comfortable and even sell them in Pink just for us nurses. They look great under your scrubs.


Anonymous 11 months ago
I just read the first question and i new you understood.