Can Nurses Have Tattoos? Hospital Policy and Exceptions

Body Art in the Nursing Profession

Have you ever heard the expression, “Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”?  The phrase is frequently used to describe an encounter with a hero or celebrity.  The person’s physical being is so captivating that the listener fails to hear what their hero might say.

Nurses’ relationships with patients are highly dependent upon clear communication of patient education, instructions and important healthcare information.  Though it is situational in nature, how we appear to a patient/family/community, may “speak” too loudly.

The popularity of body art including tattoos and body piercings has exploded over the last decade.  What formerly was commonly associated with military personnel, criminals and gangs has evolved into a very common expression of individualism and an art form that transforms one’s body into a canvas.  Motivations for acquiring body art are varied.  Spiritual, political, societal causes and just the need for self-expression can initiate a visit to a tattoo artist.

As is true with all forms of artistic expression, appreciation for art is highly subjective.  What may be pleasing to the eye of one individual may be perceived as offensive, repulsive, hurtful or embarrassing to another.  Encounters between nurses and patients are often random.

Patients are vulnerable to forced interactions with whoever presents as a caregiver.  If, during the exchange, the patient is uncomfortable, offended, or frightened by the appearance of a caregiver, the interaction often fails, placing the organization in a position to defend the quality of services it provides and its reputation as a provider.

How Do I Know What Body Parts Are Permissible?

In response to the rising popularity of body art in society, healthcare organizations as employers, have been forced to minimize the risk of those seeking care having an encounter that can be perceived as offensive or negative.  In most cases, this has been accomplished through adding clauses related to body art to existing “Dress Code” policies.

Though these policies are generally applicable to all employees of an organization, there may be department-specific restrictions. These policies are most frequently found in the Human Resource manual or Employee Handbook.  A nurse working in a behavioral health setting, for example, should become familiar with department-specific policies related to body art.

I Want to Express Myself With Some Body Art. How Do I Keep It From Being “Too Loud”?

Keeping in mind the importance of minimizing distractions when interacting with patients is a great place to start.  Choices in subject matter and location of body art can impact your career in both the short-term and long-term.  Keep in mind that the average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime Average Number of Jobs in a Lifetime [2023]: How Many Jobs Does The Average Person Have – Zippia.  Nursing career changes not only entail changes in employer, but changes in specialty and thus exposure to different patient populations. Here are some tips to avoid regretting your decision:

  1. Avoid tattoos in difficult to conceal areas of the body.  This includes the face, scalp, neck, hands and forearms.  Though sleeves and gloves are often readily available methods of concealing tattoos, infection control practices can preclude their use.
  2. Know your patient population and potential patient populations. Avoid controversial spiritual, political and societal subject matter on body parts that are difficult to conceal with standard healthcare attire.
  3. Keep in mind that patients present with a wide variation of anxiety, cognition, orientation and consciousness. Hence, images that may be perceived as frightening should be avoided on areas of the body that cannot be concealed.

It’s Too Late! I Already Adorned My Canvas!

Being cognizant of the impact body art may have on therapeutic interactions with patients is the first step.  Here are some recommendations:

  1. Check your organization’s Dress Code policy to be sure you are not in violation.  Have a discussion with your supervisor to verify your understanding of the policy and where you stand in relation to compliance.
  2. Seek an objective opinion of your artwork from a trusted colleague or co-worker.
  3. Be perceptive! If patients demonstrate verbal or non-verbal unfavorable responses on introduction, you may consider concealing even if the art is not in violation of policy.

In summary, building therapeutic relationships with patients is a cornerstone of the nursing profession.  Training and experience prepare nurses to positively contribute to the well-being of patients.  Though professionals have the right to express themselves through body art of their choosing, it is important to avoid having physical presentation create unwanted distractions that overshadow or distort the message.

Can Nurses Have Tattoos?

So, can you have a tattoo as a nurse in the US? The short answer is yes, you can. However, there are a lot of variables, such as hospital policy and the state of residency.

So, to better answer this question, we’ll look at hospital policy, patients’ perceptions, instances when tattoos may be deemed offensive, and how to make life easy as a nursing professional with tattoos.

What to Consider Before Getting a Tattoo as a Nurse?

1. Hospital Policy About Tattoos

Hospital policy determines whether or not nurses can have visible tattoos in the US.

The same applies to clinics, nursing homes, and sometimes even medical schools. In some hospitals, the policy rules are stricter than in others.

For instance, some hospitals require you to cover visible tattoos completely during working hours.

Other policies may determine where in your body you can and can’t have body piercings and visible body art such as tattoos.

Hospital policy varies from facility to facility, so you need to consult the management on rules regarding tattoos.

Overall, you can expect to run into problems if you have visible body art in places such as the face, hand, and neck.

2. Patient Perception

Patients will react differently when they see a tattooed nurse or health practitioner. Image has always been one of the fundamental aspects of the nursing practice.

Patients are believed to be more welcoming to a conventional-looking nurse.

For instance, one who wears blue, purple, or white scrubs as opposed to one with piercings on the face, striking hair color, and visible neck tattoos.

Some studies have compared patients’ perceptions of nurses and doctors with and without visible body art.

Surprisingly, the results indicate that patients are more focused on the care they get as opposed to the appearance of the person administering the care.

However, the idea of being presentable lies in the principles of nurses and health practitioners having to uphold a professional image during working hours.

3. Instances When Tattoos are Deemed Unacceptable

When the Tattoo is Large

If a tattoo covers the entirety of your arm, you may have issues in the nursing profession. The nursing industry is lenient, but only to an extent.

However, while a tattoo that fully covers your arms or neck can give you problems in the workplace, some employers and hospital admins indicate that they have no issue so long as the ink is fully covered during working hours.

When the Tattoo is Offensive

Tattoos with offensive images are not acceptable in the nursing profession.

For instance, tattoos with insulting imagery such as racial slurs, nudity, or implying criminal offense or gang affiliation can be problematic in nursing practice.

If you have such tattoos, it would be best to cover them up because your colleagues and patients will consider them absurd and unprofessional.

What Tattoos Can a Nursing Professional Have?

If you’re a nurse and want to get a tattoo, ensure you consult the management on the hospital policy regarding tattoos.

If your employer is okay with you getting tattoos and has no unusual requests, here is how to get a tattoo that won’t cause you problems.

What Kind of Tattoo Design a Nurse Should Have?

Avoid tattoos with provocative designs. Potentially offensive tattoos, such as those with negative symbols, will most likely land you in problems at work.

Does the Placement of the Tattoo Matter?

Yes. Avoid getting tattoos on your arm, face, and neck to prevent any visibility issues. Go for a more hidden placement that you can cover during working hours.

This way, you can avoid patients making complaints regarding your body art even if your employer is okay with it.

Does the Size of the Tattoo Matter?

Taking into consideration the design and placement of the tattoo, go for a small tattoo if you want it to be in an exposed area.

If you want to have it in a hidden area, such as your back or chest, there's no limit to how big you can go.

Final Thought

To sum it all up, although hospitals are aware of the decreasing stigma against tattoos, the stigma isn’t done and dusted.

Even progressive facilities such as the Mayo Clinic that don’t require tattoos to be covered have restrictions on the type of tattoos that can be visible.

nursing malpractice insurance

See Also

What is a DNP?

How to Get Transplant Nurse Certification

How to Deal With Rude Patients as a Nurse

Grants for Medical Professionals

Can Nurse Practitioners Prescribe?

DNP vs. NP

Online DNP Programs

Florida Board of Nursing

Nurse Practitioner Salary in the US

Current Version
September 26, 2023
Written By
Tim Bevelacqua, MN, RN
September 27, 2023
Edited By
Andrea Morales G.

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