What Do Nurses Think About Tattoos?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Historically, if you mentioned the word “tattoo” to a nurse, you might as well have drawn a line in the skin—er, sand. On one end of the spectrum, you had nurses who would like their bodies and the bodies of colleagues to remain completely untouched. On the other end of the spectrum, you had nurses who would like to cover every limb with ink and could probably recommend the best needle to get the job done.

We had an inkling that nurses may be evolving to adopt a more accepting attitude toward tats. In order to know for sure, we decided to needle the nurses on our Facebook page for their opinion and here’s what they had to say:

“I am an RN and dementia runs in my family…I personally don’t mind tattoos, so for my 65th birthday, I am going to treat myself and get two. One is going on my left lateral thigh. It will say, ‘Hadol here,’ along with a target symbol. Then on my right lateral thigh will be another symbol, but this one states, ‘Alternate sides please.'” —Laura F.

“I have 12 tattoos and I’m a nurse. As long as it’s not inappropriate, then it shouldn’t be an issue. Except for those ridiculous tattoos on the face! I absolutely hate face tattoos.” —Rasheeda H.

“I worked in [the] private sector where we had to cover up; our policy was no visible tattoos. Now I work for the VA and we do not have that policy, probably because of the population we serve; most veterans have at least one.” —Kim J.

“I would rather work with a nurse who had tattoos but was a good nurse and coworker than a nurse who had none but didn’t take good care of their patients and treated coworkers badly.” —Laura S.

“I am a nurse for the state of MN and I just got my first tattoo for my 50th birthday. Everyone at work, including my boss, loves it!” —Jodi T.

“If we start defining professionalism or base hiring standards on whether one has tattoos, then that opens up the availability for people to start judging by other superficial means; soon it will be no fat people or ugly people, etc. Come on folks, let’s grow up.” —Christina B.

“I have tattoos that can all be covered. However, I worked with a surgeon who had both arms sleeved. Did NOT affect his ability to do some fantastic work. Actually had a patient comment that he thought it was cool!” —Rob E.

“We went from a cover-up policy to a tattoos-are-okay policy as long as they are not offensive; determined by your supervisor. Not a tattoo person, but to each his own.” —Billie Jo L.

“In excess, they can be very distracting and unprofessional. As long as they are not sleeve, neck or facial tattoos, I think tattoos are fine.” —Barbie Y.

“Do! My tats do not affect my nursing skills, care or compassion. I haven’t had a patient who said anything negative about them. I find that most people are curious about them and ask what the meanings of them are. None of them are just random; they each have their own significance. I’ve got seven right now and plan on more. I even thought of getting ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ in the middle of my chest.” —Pam P.

“Be you!” —Stacey R.

Love them or hate them, tattoos are here to stay. Literally.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Nursing is a profession not a modeling show for opinions or a body art show. I think nurses should stick together for professionalism and continuity. Why are we even discussing another way to pull nurses apart? Just cover them up at work and avoid controversy and potential discrimination from a population who does not care for body art, piercing and rainbow colored hair. Respect is earned not guaranteed.

  2. Oh my sweet jesus…an opinion was asked on if is ok for nurses to gave tattoos…but most of the comments are either people answering the question or people bashing people for not liking them….
    You are allowed to like tattoos but you shoukd respect the people who dont.
    Wow nurses do eat their young….

  3. To each his own, though I personally dislike permanent tattoos. Temporary tattoos can be fun, and I have been known to play around with them, especially on Halloween!

  4. I am concerned about hepatitis? I was taught that there was possibility of transmission. Tattoos send a flag that they may have this communicable disease.

    • If you are not careful and selective about where you get your tattoo then this could be possible but it is far more common in the prison population than in the free world. That seems pretty judgmental to assume that someone has hepatitis just because they have a tattoo or tattoos, it would be the same as saying that all homosexual people have AIDS, it just isn’t logical. You are at higher risk from drug use and sexual contact with multiple partners.

  5. In the area i work in, psychiatry, its hard NOT to have or run into tats. Some nurses have sleeves, some have the dermal piercing, one of my colleagues has an ear tat. With some patients it is a way to build therapeutic rapport due to having something in common. I just want a couple more one on the hand that just says ‘this too shall pass’. My patients will know what it means.

  6. I at one time did the hiring for a LTC facility. Some Tats are classy and some are not… I’ve seen the cute little lizard become a crocodile or words becoming a foreign language that has not been discovered yet. Facial tats, necklaces .. not really appropriate for that environment… skulls in the over 70 population may represent poison. So… I think for nurses it’s best to keep them covered. I don’t have one… not for any reason but I just don’t want to be branded! I think the profession dictates a certain amount of reserve… however, to each his own and I really don’t think any tattoo mars the ability to be a good nurse… it’s all perception in the ones we care for… and I’ve heard both sides!

  7. Anne, Madge, and Joyce,
    I am an RN with a BSN AND more importantly a compassionate, efficient, bright, and professional nurse. My sister died last year and I got a tattoo for the first time in my life. It is a small pair of pink crocs with her initials and RIP on the inside of my forearm. This was a beautiful way to honor my sister and having this tattoo has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to provide excellent care to others.

  8. Tattoos are a personal choice. For the professional, having face and neck tats could be distracting for some patients and coworkers. But, in today’s world, most people are exposed to seeing extreme tats and piercings. The problems with tattoos and piercings happen when these people need surgery and don’t want to remove the belly button rings, or expect that the tattoos will look the same after the incision is made. I would suggest that they think about the location before they get inked.

  9. I do not judge my co-workers or especially my patients who may have body art. As a primary hiring person in the past , as long as it is not offensive language or in-appropriate visually, I am good with it. Kind of speaks to nursing being judgemental or profiling of people. That, folks, will affect your nursing care and assessments. Please don’t do this.

  10. Food for thought: If 2 equally qualified nurses are applying for a job I will always hire the one sans tattoo.
    Unprofessional baggage to say the least

    • I cover my tattoos at work out of respect for the geriatric population I work with. I respect them and I am aware that my personal choice to have tattoos may bother them. I also do not show my tattoos when attending a job interview, just because I do not think it is appropriate hiring practice to judge someone based on their appearance, does not mean it does not occur. As evidenced above. I hope that one day you will meet a wonderful person who will change your thoughts on tattoos as “unprofessional baggage”. We are all beautiful and capable, tattoos or not, we have joined together as nurses to care for those who need us.

    • Judging someone as having “Unprofessional baggage, to say the least.” based on ink seems very judgemental. Isn’t one of the ideas behind the compassion we are to demonstrate is to NOT be judgemental?

      Please let me know if I ever interview with you. I’d prefer to withdraw my application than find out your best comment about me is “He has unprofessional baggage!”

      We wonder why there is still an RN shortage. We are hateful to each other.

    • My tattoos are well done and have deeply personal meaning. Many of our patients have tattoos; from our WWII veterans, to the homeless, to the housewives, to the white collar or blue collar. I do not consider them ugly and disfiguring, I encourage you to consider them a story, a depiction of where someone has been in their life.

    • Way to generalize. Sadly bigoted. My Celtic Cross. Is tasteful and still looks good years later. I’m glad, however, that you won’t get to see it. Would hate to feel your judgment.

  11. I graduated with a BSN in 1963….yup! The dark ages: starched white dresses, white nylons, white shoes and those abominable starched caps. Love scrubs. Hate tattoos on many levels. I think it is hard to improve on even the most humble bodies by adding colored drawings or writing. There has just got to be a better way to express oneself than that. And don’t get me started on mothers who refuse to take their nipple rings out long enough to supply needed breastmilk for their preterm infants. Good night, nurse!! Deanne Francis, RN (NICU)

  12. We have really come a long way baby! Nursing instructors used to measure the length of our dresses from the floor, had to be below the knees (yes dresses) NO GOING without a FULL SLIP either. Hair could not touch the collar!!!! Tiny stud earrings, micro pearls for example. Have come a long way. Yes I graduated in 1976, Any questions.
    Nurses that trained in Catholic Hospitals had it THE WORSE!!! To all our young cool nurses,
    GO GET YOUR TATTOOS and live it up!!! We are out of the DARK AGES.

  13. I never could quite understand why anyone would do that to their body. I have my ears pierced but even the holes could grow back together. With tattoos you are disfigured for life. Besides, to me they are unprofessional looking.

  14. My son has Type I Diabetes posted around the medical symbol. He refuses to wear any tags to alert others of his condition. This tattoo literally saved his life. He was in a car accident and the EMT noticed his tattoo. BS was extremely elevated. No more complaints from me.

  15. My tattoos are just as much a part of me as my fire engine red hair. Neither of them affect my skills as a nurse. I think that this difference in myself make me more accepting ang compassionate with others who are different. A good nurse is a good nurse, no matter what she looks like. However, I will say, I don’t like vulgar tattoos, that is disrespectful…

    • Awesome! I, too,am a redhead and have multiple tattoos. I have been a nurse for years, even though my tats are covered with scrubs, my friends and co-workers know about them. No secret. They are a very special part of me. I am 68 y/o and go to Hawaii every year. And, every year I get a new tat there. LOVE THEM!!

  16. I hate tats ….think they are ugly and would never get one myself because 1) I hate needles (yes I know and I worked in adult oncology) and 2) I think they are unprofessional.

  17. I don’t understand the remark by Laura S. What do tats have to do with a nurse being good at what he/she does or bad at it? I do agree with Christina B…”judging by superficial means” because of having tattoos is ridiculous. Just abide by cover-up policy if one is in place.

    • After 33 years of nursing practice ,2 years in all the 517 skilled nursing facilities. ..and .10 years Acute Thoracic and Cardiovascular Institute [TCI] hospital ,open heart surgical patients …another 10 years TCI professional offices..pacemaker clinics ..carefree medical clinic manager I found There is nothing better than a clean untattooed body.
      No one has mentioned anything about skin breakdown at some of the tat sites, and skin and ink problems later on , that Doctors and nurses are dealing with.
      What of the links to blood due to the ink seeping into cells?
      Nursing home care certainly does count ….thats where you can follow up on the surgeries that patients have had previous to their nursing home / rehab. placement.
      Nursing homes are where cancer patients go for rehab and recuperation and to die as well.
      I would prefer people to not tattoo ,but where would care giving be if their weren’t people to defame [some may not like that word ,but later in life they’ll see, that it is ] their self…and break down their skin …I thought acne was plenty enough skin issue for human kind to contend .with.

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