Tattoos used to be taboo, especially in professional settings. But over the last decade, tattoos have become more mainstream. Estimates suggest up to 40 percent of millennials have at least one tattoo.
With tattoos becoming so common, what does this mean for nurses who want to express themselves through body art? Can nurses have tattoos?
The short answer is yes, nurses can have tattoos. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What hospital policies are, regarding tattoos and other body modifications
- Why tattoos may be an issue for some employers
- Tips for covering up tattoos at work
- Precautions nurses should take before getting tattooed
- Answers to common questions nurses have about tattoos
By the end, you’ll understand your rights and responsibilities as a nurse with tattoos.
Can Nurses Have Tattoos?
Yes, most hospitals now allow nurses to have tattoos. An estimated 25% of nurses have at least one tattoo. But some old-fashioned settings still prefer nurses to cover tattoos. It’s smart to cover tattoos for interviews, then ask about rules later.
What About Body Piercings and Dyed/Long Hair?
Most hospital policies that restrict tattoos also regulate other “body art” like piercings. The rules tend to be stricter for clinical staff than non-clinical.
As a nursing student, you may be asked to remove or hide facial piercings, including lip, nose, eyebrow, and tongue jewelry. Ear piercings are sometimes allowed.
Unnatural hair colors and extreme styles could also go against the hospital dress code. Some facilities don’t allow clinical staff to have hair reaching past the shoulders.
So if you’re thinking about bold piercings or hair, check your employer’s policies first.
Why Would Tattoos Be a Problem?
It varies by hospital, but there are a few common concerns behind tattoo restrictions:
- Infection control – Tattoos can harbor bacteria and potentially pose an infection risk. However, the science of tattoo-related infections is inconclusive.
- Professional appearance – Like it or not, visible tattoos are still seen as unprofessional by some individuals. Hospitals aim to provide a welcoming environment for all patients.
- Offensive images – Graphic or vulgar tattoos may be distressing for certain patients. Facilities want to create a comfortable healing atmosphere.
The good news? As tattoos become more mainstream, hospital policies are relaxing. It’s no longer an automatic veto during the RN hiring process.
How Do I Cover Up Tattoos?
If your workplace requires you to keep tattoos covered, there are a few options:
- Tattoo cover-up sleeve – These are stretchy sleeves that slip over your arm and conceal arm/hand tattoos. Just check they comply with infection control policies.
- Make-up – Special heavy-duty foundations and concealers can mask tattoos on arms or other exposed areas. But they’re not practical for hand tattoos.
- Bandages or skin-tone adhesive patches – These can be applied over small tattoos. But they likely won’t stay in place for a whole shift.
- Wear long sleeves and pants – Simple but effective. Just watch out for riding up sleeves and overheating.
Also, check whether your scrubs or uniform can fully cover your existing ink. Some nurses get away with tattoos by carefully selecting attire.
What are the Best Nurse Tattoos?
When choosing tattoo designs, keep your career top-of-mind. Here are ideas that are unlikely to cause issues:
- Small tattoos – A tiny heart, angel wings, or Scripture verse can be easily hidden if needed.
- Inner wrist – This classic spot allows inking below a watch or bracelets.
- Foot – Shoes and socks will cover foot tattoos. Just don’t get anything offensive in case you remove shoes on shift.
- Shoulder blade – Wearing scrubs will conceal a shoulder blade tattoo. But muscle definition may distort the design.
- Ribs – Ribs or side tattoos can remain hidden by your uniform. But be prepared for some discomfort getting inked over your bones.
Avoid hand, neck, and face tattoos if you want maximum career flexibility. Consider starting with areas covered by scrubs until you’ve established your hospital’s culture.
What if My Employer Doesn’t Have a Dress Code?
Some hospitals don’t dictate dress codes or tattoo policies, leaving it up to nurse managers’ discretion. This provides more latitude but less certainty.
Without clear policies, take your manager’s lead. Ask whether they require tattoos to be covered. Or show initiative by covering new tattoos until any concerns are put at ease.
Even in relaxed environments, use good judgment. Keep tattoos and piercings subtle during the interview process. And make sure any tattoo designs won’t impede rapport with the diversity of people you serve.
How To Maintain a Professional Appearance
As a nurse, your appearance matters. Follow these tips to keep your image polished and professional with tattoos:
- Keep tattoos clean, well-moisturized, and fully healed. Infections could preclude you from patient care.
- Ensure clothing covers tattoos when mandated by your employer. Don’t “accidentally” expose banned tattoos.
- Select tattoo designs and placement carefully if pursuing a nursing career. Avoid anything offensive or extreme.
- Take out facial piercings, including clear spacers, before your shift according to policy. Don’t keep them in hoping no one will notice.
- Cover visible bandages over new tattoos which may draw questions or concerns.
- Remain approachable, kind, and focused on excellent patient care. This matters more than your ink or lack thereof.
What To Consider Before Getting A Tattoo As A Nurse
Nurses with tattoos can absolutely maintain professionalism. But avoiding tattoo regret starts with smart planning:
- Research your hospital’s policy and note if they restrict the location, themes, or size of tattoos.
- Consider furthering education like nurse anesthetist training. Will your tattoos comply with future workplace policies?
- Sleep on your design idea for several months before permanently inking it. Make sure you’ll be happy with it long-term.
- Ask yourself if the tattoo could alienate certain patients or colleagues.
- Choose reputable tattoo artists in sanitary studios to avoid infection risk.
- Select placements that will be covered by scrubs like arms, shoulders, and ribs.
- Start with smaller tattoos that can be easily concealed until you see your workplace culture.
Your Dream Workplace Policies
What if you could write your own tattoo policies? What would your ideal nursing job allow?
Think through your boundaries:
- Would you allow hand, neck, or face tattoos? Or keep those off-limits?
- What about tongue splits or ear gauging? Yay or nay?
- Would you restrict themes like skulls, words, or political symbols?
- How large could a nurse’s tattoo be? Are sleeves permitted or not?
- Would you require tattoos to be covered? Or let nurses show tattoos freely?
There’s no universal right or wrong policy. But thinking this through helps you find employers most aligned with your self-expression.
The Location of Your Tattoo
Tattoo visibility plays a big role in acceptance by employers and patients. A small ankle tattoo is often less problematic than a knuckle tattoo.
Here are common spot restrictions:
Face – Facial tattoos are almost always prohibited in healthcare settings as they drastically alter appearance. Eyes, lips, and cheeks are off the table.
Hands – Hand tattoos often must be covered as they’re constantly visible. Fingers, palms, and knuckles tend to garner pushback.
Neck – Neck tattoos can project an overly “tough” image. Most hospitals require choker tattoos to remain covered.
Offensive images – Tattoos with profanity, gang symbols, and nudity anywhere on the body are understandably banned.
Before the inking on the face, hands, or neck, reflect carefully on how this will impact your work options. Otherwise, stick to spots covered by scrubs.
Pros of Having Tattoos on Nurses
Along with self-expression, tattoos offer some benefits for nurses on the job:
The Perfect Ice Breaker With Patients
Tasteful tattoos give patients something friendly and interesting to chat about with their nurses. They can spark fascinating conversations beyond small talk.
“Oh that’s beautiful! What does your tattoo represent?”
Visible tattoos with personal meaning provide an instant connection. They let your patients learn what inspires you.
Builds Connection With Patients
Nurses with tattoos may seem more relatable and approachable to patients. Patients realize their nurse also makes personal style choices that carry meaning.
Tattoos can foster comforting nurse-patient relationships. Patients may ask about the significance of your tattoos, allowing you to bond.
Cons of Having Tattoos as a Nurse
However, drawbacks of nursing tattoos do exist:
There’s Still a Lot of Stigma Surrounding Tattoos
Unfortunately, tattoos still carry a stigma in some healthcare settings. Some see tattoos as unprofessional, risky, or even indicative of criminal history.
Patients, family members, and colleagues may judge nurses with prominent tattoos. Or they may make inaccurate assumptions about their character or abilities.
This stigma is fading as tattoos gain mainstream appeal. But it’s still wise to conform to policies and cover ink when first starting nursing roles.
Tattoos May Affect Your Career Development
Hiring managers often see tattoos as a red flag on resumes and in interviews. Nurses with prominent tattoos may encounter career limitations.
Some employers still veto candidates with visible tattoos, neck tattoos, or hand tattoos. Or they may offer lower salaries due to unconscious bias.
Tattoos May Affect Some Of Your Patients or Coworkers
Certain individuals may feel uncomfortable around visible tattoos due to personal or cultural reasons. Be mindful that body art could alienate some you serve.
And don’t assume all hospital staff will be open to tattoos. Coworker complaints could lead to being asked to cover up. Start conservatively until you gauge acceptance.
Can You Be Denied a Nursing Job If You Have Tattoos?
There is no federal law protecting people with tattoos from employment discrimination. Whether tattoos prohibit you from nursing depends on the employer.
Hospital hiring managers have the right to implement appearance standards for clinical staff. And they can legally rescind job offers if candidates don’t comply.
Some facilities explicitly state they don’t hire candidates with tattoos. Others require tattoos to be covered at work.
However, hospitals are relaxing rules as societal attitudes shift. Take steps to conform to policies, but find employers embracing self-expression.
Major Questions About Nursing and Tattoos
1. Can I get a tattoo as a nurse?
Yes, there are no laws preventing nurses from getting tattoos in their free time. Just be sure to follow your facility’s policies. Start with areas hidden by scrubs until you see your workplace culture.
2. What are some common hospital rules regarding tattoos?
Policies range widely, but common rules include no hand/face/neck tattoos visible at work, no offensive images covering all tattoos, and getting manager pre-approval for new visible tattoos.
3. Is it legal for a hospital to ask me to cover up a tattoo?
Unfortunately, yes, employers can legally require you to cover tattoos on the clock. As long as policies apply to all employees evenly, this is considered legal. Refusing could get you disciplined or dismissed.
4. Are there any precautions I should take before getting a tattoo?
Yes! Research your facility’s policies first. Select discreet locations covered by scrubs/uniforms. Avoid themes that may alienate patients. Visit reputable artists in professional studios.
5. What do I do if I have a tattoo and am unsure if it’s appropriate?
Ask your manager if you must keep your current tattoos covered. Offer to wear cover-up sleeves or bandages until any concerns are put at ease. Adapt to feedback while staying true to yourself.
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