Can You Become a Doctor if You Have Tattoos?
In the United States, tattoos are becoming increasingly fashionable, with many millennials getting inked. Full sleeve tattoos are becoming ever popular and the stigma of tattoos on women is disappearing, though it’s not gone yet.
This generation is also entering the medical field at a faster pace than prior generations, raising the question of whether medical professionals, including doctors, can have tattoos.
Let us look at the rules and consequences of getting a tattoo if you’re a doctor.
What are the Rules?
Generally, hospitals expect doctors to cover over any tattoos while they’re at work for hygiene purposes.
Tattoos above the neckline or beyond the wrist are generally not permitted as most patients wouldn’t want their surgeon’s hands or face covered in ink!
However, tattoos are no longer seen as an indication of a misspent or criminal past, and there are certain hospitals and clinics where doctors and medical staff are permitted to wear visible tattoos.
But, at the same time, there are also still hospitals where doctors and medical staff cannot have any tattoos, not even covered ones.
“Physical appearance, including having tattoos, is not protected from discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, so you can be exposed to hiring, firing, and promotion biases based on an employer or manager’s preferences.
Having a visible tattoo can still be a stigma in the eyes of some senior medical professionals, and, although administrators may deny it, could possibly lead to discrimination in the workplace, and possibly slow or restrict promotion prospects.
Qualifying top of your class at med school may pale into insignificance if your prospective employer isn’t a fan of tattoos and sees yours as unprofessional at your interview.
It’s unfair, and you could argue that it is sexist, but women doctors, in particular, may be subject to this kind of outdated prejudice.
It shouldn’t have to be a consideration, and attitudes are slowly changing, but it’s still an issue to be aware of.
What Kind of Tattoos are Allowed?
The only restrictions in the AMA Code of Medical Ethics document are that tattoos cannot be offensive in nature nor should they be located where they’ll interfere with procedures, such as on the hands.
These restrictions are in place not only to maintain professionalism but also to protect the safety of patients.
The process of getting a tattoo can cause an infection, and having an infection on your skin is never a good idea.
While, as a medical professional, this is unlikely, you also want to make sure that you’re not allergic to the ink that will be used on the tattoo; an allergic reaction could also mean problems with healing or infections, which will mean taking time off work.
It takes a few weeks for a tattoo to properly heal. They’re going to scab. The scabs will peel away, which is not a nice look for a doctor.
If you plan to get a tattoo, look at getting it at the start of a longish vacation to give it time to heal before going back to work.
As we mentioned before, perceptions are changing, but experience has shown that patients, particularly elderly patients, are less likely to trust their care providers if they have visible tattoos.
The location and nature of the tattoo are also considerations. So, regardless of the establishment’s rules, if you’re working with the elderly or a mix of patients, it’s probably prudent to keep your tattoo covered when you’re on the job.
On the other hand, a younger patient may feel more comfortable with a cool “tatted” doctor, so if you’re in pediatrics, and it’s allowed, it may be okay to flash the tat once in a while.
The only restriction for doctors having a tattoo in the AMA Code of Medical Ethics document is that the tattoo cannot be offensive in nature or be located where they’ll interfere with procedure.
However, hospitals have their own rules and regulations for employees. These restrictions are in place not only to maintain professionalism but also to protect the safety of patients.
With restrictions varying from establishment to establishment, getting a tattoo before you qualify may prevent you from taking up a desired postgraduate training position or residency.
If you are considering getting a tattoo, it is important to do your research and refer to your hospital rules first!
Also, consider if having a tattoo would restrict you from applying for a promotion in another hospital with different rules on tattoos.
Perceptions are changing, but patients, particularly elderly patients, have varying levels of comfort with a doctor who has tattoos.