Can doctors have tattoos? I bumped into this question when I was scrolling through a space on Quora some days ago from a medic; In fact, he already had a tattoo on his forearm and was worried if his medical career is over.
Although this topic can be controversial depending on your culture and belief, I will try as much as possible to remove all forms of bias and be as straightforward as possible in giving an answer.
So can a doctor have a tattoo? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
- What Are Tattoos?
- How Physicians Are Perceived Traditionally
- How Doctors With Tattoos Are Perceived In Some Cultures
- Can Doctors Have Tattoos?
- Can doctors have tattoos? Final Words!
What Are Tattoos?
A tattoo is a type of body modification that is made by inserting dyes and other pigments whether they are permanent or temporary into the dermis of the skin to make a design or an artwork.
The culture is deep-rooted in many different cultures and traditions especially in Africa, Native America, and many parts of Asia.
But with the advent of different socio-cultural beliefs and orientations, its acceptability becomes an issue of concern especially in relation to morality.
How Physicians Are Perceived Traditionally
In ancient times, during the advent of modern medicine, physicians were traditionally known to have a certain kind of demeanor and composure that depicted the perception that the founding fathers of medicine had on professionalism.
A regular physician was expected to dress corporately with clean shaved beards, no piercings, and with a white coat to symbolize purity and life.
The founding fathers of modern medicine were the Greeks and the Romans. And according to research work from a trusted source on the role of tattoos in Ancient Greek and Roman culture, it stated that tattoos were used in ancient Greek culture as a means of communication between spies. It was used by the Greeks to show the ranking of the spies as a way of identification.
On the other hand, the Romans used it to mark slaves and criminals. The tattoos marked them and the crimes they committed as popular seen among gladiators. Says a lot about why it is forbidden in the Roman Catholic tradition.
So tattoos generally for the founding fathers of medicine pointed more towards the negative attributes in their culture and would have been taboo if seen among nobles like a physician.
But recent studies have made us understand that these trends are changing.
How Doctors With Tattoos Are Perceived In Some Cultures
I am a final year medical student in a medical school in Nigeria, and there is this common tradition among male medical students usually before they write any medical exams.
For some reasons I do not completely understand, medical students in my school are not allowed to keep beards. But some medical students who manage to keep theirs up till the exam day usually go for a clean shave before the exams so as not to annoy some of the examiners who might have issues with that.
So this means that as a medical student in my school, you can keep beards as long as you are not caught by the wrong Consultant.
Also, in a culture like mine that is deeply rooted in religion, it might be an eyesore to some people to see a doctor with a tattoo. But this might not be a problem to some. Generally, some people perceive people who keep tattoos and beards, especially the long ones as unserious and irresponsible.
But that is for some people, you will find that a lot of people think very differently.
Can Doctors Have Tattoos?
Are doctors allowed to have tattoos? The right answer is; it depends on a lot of factors of which your workplace and the patients you see make up a good part.
Let’s look at some works by other people who have tried to answer this same question.
According to research cited from Bmjopen, the majority of patients who present to hospitals actually prefer to be attended to by doctors who appear like the regular traditional physician. That is with clean shaved beards, corporate attire with a well-knotted tie, or scrub with lab coats.
So most patients are more satisfied after seeing a more traditionally looking doctor than a doctor who appears non-conventional.
But another survey was found in the Inquirer where 924 patients in a hospital in Pennsylvania were surveyed for a period of nine months on their perception of doctors with tattoos.
This new study revealed that doctors who have tattoos are perceived by the majority of patients to have equal competence as their colleagues without tattoos.
A particular female doctor in the hospital was found not to take extra care in covering her tattoos at work even while seeing her patients. She said it was just her colleagues who have been commenting that her tattoos would make her be viewed as unprofessional.
She went on to categorically state that her tattoos have been useful in deepening the relationship with some of her patients who either loved tattoos or because it gave them something else to discuss other than their illness.
Can Doctors Have Tattoos? It Also Depends On Your Specialty
There are some specialties in medicine and surgical specialties where it may not really matter at all whether you have a tattoo as a doctor while attending to patients or not.
For instance, a Diagnostic Radiologist may have tattoos even in very obvious places without caring a bit since he/she rarely comes in contact with patients. They mostly stay in offices interpreting films after the scan has been done by the radiographers and Sonographers.
But for an internal medicine physician with tattoos who sees patients in clinics and by the bedside almost on a daily basis may be concerned about how their patients perceive their tattoos.
Major Problems Of Doctors With Tattoos That Are Visible
In recent times people are beginning to be more accepting towards people who care about and have body arts. So there may not be many challenges for doctors with tattoos depending on their place of work, their coworkers, and of course the patients they are attending to.
One major problem that doctors with visible tattoos may have is being hired in some hospitals that have a different value system. For instance, a healthcare facility owned by some religious body may have issues with hiring a doctor with tattoos. While such will be unseen in a government facility.
But according to another study carried out in the year 2015, a group of employees was interviewed as to whether they would hire an employee with visible body tattoos. At the end of the study, only 4% of the participants revealed that they wouldn’t hire a doctor with tattoos. While 96% revealed they had no issues with hiring anyone as long as they are competent enough. This is great news for doctors with tattoos.
Another major concern about having visible tattoos as a doctor is a fear of being discriminated against by patients and coworkers with a different value system. But an earlier stated, from the study carried out in the Pennsylvanian hospital, most patients don’t care again whether they have tattoos or not as long as they are competent.
Related: Having dogs in medical school: 5 things you must know
Can Doctors Get Tattoos?
If you are already a doctor who wants to know if it is legal or supported to get tattoos, the answer is that there are no regulations that I know of that prohibit doctors or health workers from having tattoos.
But it is very essential that you get your tattoos from a health-regulated body to decrease the risk of infection with hepatitis B, HIV, and other diseases that are communicable via needles.
You Can Appear Like A Traditional Physician Even With Tattoos
Once your tattoos are in those parts of your body that can be covered by your ward coat and pants, then you will have no problem at all in your workplace.
You can appear like a traditional physician even with tattoos without anyone knowing just like the doctors in the pictures below.
It is true that as a doctor, you have a life outside the four walls of the hospital. So if you are afraid that your tattoos will affect how you are perceived at work, you might want to restrict them to those areas where they won’t be seen easily with your ward coat on.
Of course, a lot of patients won’t be comfortable with a doctor with tattoos all over the face, palms, and fingers. Remember the adage that too much of everything is bad.
Can doctors have tattoos: Tattooing And Blood Donation
As long as your tattoo is older than 3 months old, and you meet all the other eligibility criteria for blood donation, then you can go ahead and donate as a doctor.
This is contrary to the infamous notion that you cannot donate blood if you have tattoos.
Can doctors have tattoos? Final Words!
The founding fathers of modern medicine were the Greek philosophers and the Romans. And tattoos for them were used to symbolize things in the negative spectrum of life like spies and slaves.
So I wonder; if modern medicine ever had its origin from places like Africa, India, or Native America where tattoos were seen as pure art and used to symbolize royalty and to enhance beauty whether modern physicians would ever have any problems with doctors with tattoos.
As you can see from my research, why doctors who practice medicine the traditional way are against tattoos is deep-rooted in the origin of modern medicine.
Also, whether your tattoos will be acceptable in your place of work as a health worker with tattoos depends on the patients you are seeing and the belief system of the people in your work environment.
The percentage of doctors with tattoos is increasing daily with increasing enlightenment. And in the nearest future, it won’t be an issue of concern at all.
So the answer to the question; can doctors have tattoos, is Yes! Doctors can have tattoos. But it is better if it is in less conspicuous areas of your body where they could be easily covered by your ward coats if you work in a much more conservative environment.
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