To tat or not to tat?

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Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re rocking your scrubs or committing a huge fashion blunder.

So when a reader wrote in asking about the appropriateness of visible tattoos for nurses, we asked our Facebook fans for their opinions and personal policies.

And did we ever get answers! The topic was widely contested—here are some of the best answers for and against visible tattoos at work.

Show ’em off!
Tattoos and piercings are a part of the person who wears them. I think when we show our individuality it connects us to our patients and helps them feel more comfortable.
Mari E. Thomas

I have one that’s visible on the inside of my left wrist. I actually have found that it’s more attention-grabbing when I attempt to cover it up. It isn’t the person’s appearance that’s caring for the patients…. I will finish with a riddle: What’s the only difference between tattooed and non-tattooed people? Tattooed ones don’t care that you aren’t.
Anthony Grimm

I have multiple tattoos and my nose pierced. I keep such small jewelry in my piercing that most people don’t even notice it. All but one of my tattoos stays covered by scrubs and my half sleeve is easily covered by a scrub jacket. My sleeve is a collage of the national flowers of my and my husband’s countries of heritage. The times it has been noticed by patients, they ask to see it and say it looks like a garden or a painting on my arm. Some have even said it has changed how they view people with tattoos. Nurses are in a position to teach their patients about so many things: their health, love, acceptance and caring for people despite appearances.
Mary Becker

It’s what is inside that makes you a good nurse or not. I have tattoos covered; for the most part, it’s never been an issue. I know some helmet-haired, perfectly coiffed, fake-nailed nurses exist that I wouldn’t let near my dog. This is subjective. You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Nora Breuer

I have four tattoos, two visible. I cover one with a watch and one with makeup because my work makes me. However, they are in no way inappropriate. I think we shouldn’t have to cover them if they are tasteful. Mine only have ever started conversation and a bond!
Shannon Guy

Most of my tattoos are easily covered, but I have a nurse on the inside of my right wrist and my patients love it!
Christina Snyder

Next: Cover ’em up! →

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17 Responses to To tat or not to tat?

  1. Jackie

    I don’t have tattoos myself, but I understand the case for both sides. Ultimately, I think covering them is best. There are a lot of judgemental people out there who don’t understand and aren’t willing to try. Angie, you sound like one of the judgemental ones. :/

  2. lisamulkey

    I do have tattoos but I chose to place mine where they cannot be seen. I believe that they need to be covered. We are professionals and need to look professional.

  3. Dean

    I have a number of tattoos, and have turned down two jobs where I would have been required to cover them. Most of my tattoos reflect my military heritage and I have received a lot of positive feedback from patients. I have had patients express discomfort about having their care provided by black nurses, older nurses, Hispanic nurses, Filipino nurses, etc, and I am sure that patients may have been put off by my tattoos. People, including patients, just need to get over their prejudices.

  4. boopnurse74

    I think all things in moderation are reasonable. I had an E.R. experience in 1998 with a nurse who made me think “I Have tattoos too. I COULD do this!!” He was inspirational and his comforting “this is gonna be ok. you will be ok. We’re ok.” personality to go with his ink allowed me to relate; therefore relax. All situations need an equalizer. If my ink isn’t preferred by one patient, another one may be looking for that same common thread for a little comfort. Mine is a delicate design, 4″x4″ butterfly in my inner forearm. I have gotten one questionable remark in four years: “Why would you get that There?” And still, it started a conversation for my patient. Two exploding grenades on either side of your neck with “FTW” in old english linking their pull pins…. Maybe a little excessive.

  5. Granny RN

    It has been said that a tattoo is ‘a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.’
    In point of fact most other professions (even the Military) have policies now which prohibit visible tattoos. And all good Bridal Shops carry a cream cover-up just for the purpose of hiding the body art that ‘takes away’ from The Dress.
    I have lived long enough now to have seen the effects of YEARS of ‘body art’ on persons aged 30-plus and have noted that wrinkles and skin movement very often change the shape of the original ‘canvas’, rendering the tat a poor representation of its original form.
    There are some things which simply DO NOT BELONG in view of the patients and our colleagues.
    However, if one cannot seem to ‘just say no’, remember that tattoos are considered ‘identifying marks’ if your body ever needs such a service…

  6. HolyPeas

    You know, I dont find them unprofessional and in a way I wish people did not have to cover them… but at the same time, if you are going to be a nurse or even THINK that may be a possibility I dont understand why you would tat yourself up knowing that its going to be a problem.

  7. mssjez

    I have just been accepted into nursing school and begin in the fall. The only tattoo that is visible (unless I’m at the beach in a bathing suit) is a puzzle piece on the inside of my wrist. It is representative of the years I spent working with children with autism which has changed my life and my perspective on the world. Most people don’t even see it until they’ve known me for a few months or years. It’s always a conversation starter (everyone knows someone with autism) and everyone can understand the reason I got it. Spending time with an individual with autism changes you.

  8. sjbergmann

    I have two Tattoos and unless I tell someone at work I have them no one would know I have them. I have a friend that went threw school with me she has on behind her ear and on on her hand they are both very taste full. I think they are trashy for someone going into health care. We are taking care of people of all ages and the old generation think it may look trashy, make us younger nurses look not capable of doing our job. They need to be covered and one needs to always think about getting a tattoo of spot they get it for any job.

  9. Jessica Deschaines

    I have a LOT of tattoos all over my body, including a nearly full sleeve, as well as a single facial piercing (labret) I am of the opinion that as long as the ink isn’t racist, drug related, sexually explicit or violent/dark, it’s all good. My current job (private, kind of ritzy nursing home) requires all visible ink to be covered. I knew that going in, and I don’t really mind covering them (except…I live in Florida, and it is HOT with extra layers!) The job I just left due to moving – a psych hospital, had no such restrictions on visible ink and only minor restrictions on facial piercings. I work with the elderly, often demented, and my ink has mostly been well received and, believe it or not, a good conversation starter! Of course, there is always that one patient who immediately hates me and my ink. *shrug* Body positioning, grabbing a cover up prior to patient contact and switching staff, has been helpful in those cases. :-)

  10. nurse_ratched

    Times are changing. I had tattoos long before ever even considering becoming a nurse–I think a lot of people can say the same. In my case, the visible ones are small and can’t be covered, but all of them are benign (i.e. no skulls or profanity) and represent self-growth and recovery from something I battled back then. I agree that tattoos can sometimes spark positive conversation, and I am more than happy to tell any patient (or employer) about the positive message behind any of them if they ask.

    • onlyme

      Yes, if getting them isn’t actually expected, then still it’s gotten to be almost that way for hospital staff, and it’s totally unrealistic to pretend otherwise. (My two cents’.)

  11. runningnurse

    I have multiple tats and I cover them on the job. I have told my children that if they want tats, it’s OK, but ALWAYS be able to easily cover them for a “real job”. I have no problems with others who have tats, but not on the face, etc. Maybe just me….Professional on the job, “me” in real life.

  12. Richard

    I have worked in staffing before, some facilities didn’t care, because they wanted you to blend in with the clients (Detox/Psych), and I have worked at some that would ban you from the facility if one tattoo was uncovered. My personal opinion, it can be a good conversation starter or to bond with patients (especially if they have tattoos) In other scenario’s, like the elderly population, they would probably frown upon it. If I had tattoo’s I would not have a problem covering them up. It’s all about being smart and following your facility policy. Just remember, your job (past or current) probably paid for that tattoo, so just keep that in mind.

    • NYNCRN

      I have 10 tats, most are hidden by scrubs wit no special tricks but I have my wrist and wedding band done as well as the flowers from 2 on either side of my neck that peek out over scrubs. I have NEVER from nursing school to any facility I’ve worked at been asked/forced to cover them; From my med-Surg days with many geriatric PTs in NY to my current high risk OB position in a much less liberal state. They are part of me, and have or reflect very special or difficult times in my life(from my children, the passing of my Dad and my beating cancer). My art does not affect my intelligence or ability to care for my patients as they need. Professionalism is not the art on your skin, it is the way we act, care for and advocate for the treatment of those in our care. BTW I’ve never had an ill comment from ANY pt ever.

  13. Devon Smith-Olesen

    I am a nurse with tattoos that are both visual and not. I have never heard of a patient not wanting a tattooed nurse to take care of them. I bel I eve that oil one thing in my favor. A lot of my patients (and I deal a lot with the older population) have asked me why I got my tattoos and thankfully all my tattoo have a significant meaning to me. Once that meaning is discussed my patients think they are cool. I especially love it when the little old lady tells me she likes my tattoos. I have yet been told by my job that I must cover my tattoos. I truly only have three of my nine tattoos that show, but I believe it is dependent on your manager. If your manager is more accepting then it doesnt seem to be a big deal and patients don’t seem to make a big deal. Now the tattoos should be tasteful if they are visable. Hospitals are going to have to change their thoughts on r at too because they are becoming much more mainstream.

  14. tinaJ

    I have tattoos, and two of the three are visible occasionally ,only the small one on my wrist is seen all the time. One is very special to me and that one gets the most attention. It is my nursing cap/stethoscope with the year I graduated from nursing school. My resident’s and their family members think it is great. I have bonded with several people I care for because of them. Working in a nursing home I have found more people have tattoos both men and women then you think.

    • onlyme

      Yes, ‘bedside manner’ and ‘bonding’ with patients are very significant. Frankly, tattoos have become part of it all.