Establishing a good doctor-patient relationship is one of the most crucial elements of proper treatment and healthcare. However, what happens when a doctor doesn’t really conform to the standard “doctor image” and shakes the patient’s confidence by having a visible or nondescript tattoo?
Well, that’s a tricky subject. Over the past decade, medical school and medical personnel in general have become more progressive, so much so that doctors getting tattoos are a completely normal phenomenon. However, dilemmas remain as to whether tattoos should be visible or not and whether they undermine the patient’s trust in the doctor.
In the following paragraphs, we will examine some misconceptions about tattooed doctors and what we, the patients, can expect from these non-traditional medical professionals.
Can doctors have tattoos?
Traditional appearance and confidence
Some studies have shown that patients prefer and trust more doctors who look like traditional doctors. These doctors are very well dressed, wearing traditional clothes like a white coat or blue scrubs, and are generally the epitome of a healthy and trustworthy doctor.
It is believed that patients are more satisfied with a traditional-looking doctor because they associate him with professionalism and proper behavior, not only in the hospital but also in their private lives.
Even when it comes to doctors talking about tattoos, it’s surprising that over 40% of doctors do NOT approve of tattoos among medical professionals and staff. Of course, many doctors are in favor of tattoos, but even then they believe that tattoos should be completely covered during labor. So where do you draw the line between personal and professional life and one affecting the other?
In an ideal world, doctors could wear their tattoos openly and proudly, while earning their patients’ trust based on their good work, not their looks. But people have been exposed to the “traditional image of the doctor” for so long that any deviation from such an image undermines patient confidence.
There have been cases of patients asking for another doctor because their doctor had a visible tattoo. Even though the doctor was doing his job perfectly, they still had to fall victim to generalization and negative misconceptions about tattoos.
Departure from tradition
At least 38% of adults in the US and UK have tattoos. The numbers are even higher for younger people. So why does it seem that all other professionals allow acts of self-expression, while the rules seem strict for doctors?
The truth is that many doctors, especially younger ones, have started to deviate from the traditional appearance and have started to see self-expression as their right. Although some colleagues and patients would react negatively to tattoos, some doctors just want to prove that just because they have a tattoo doesn’t make them less professional or bad at what they do.
It is believed that some patients even find doctors with tattoos more approachable and friendly than those without tattoos. Of course, being presentable is always a must, but some patients are simply more open about their issues if a doctor also seems “human.”
Doctor-patient relationship studies
To test the general idea that patients do not trust doctors with tattoos, numerous studies have observed the doctor-patient relationship where the doctor has a visible tattoo, real or fake.
One such study, published by the Emergency Medicine Journal, showed the relationship between tattooed doctors and their patients. In the study, 7 emergency physicians participated and had to wear either fake piercings, adhesive tattoos, or none of these, for 9 months while working with their patients. A doctor had full tattoos on both arms, but during the study he covered the sleeve tattoos with a white coat.
After 9 months, all patients (924 in total) were asked about their satisfaction with these doctors. The patients were over 18 years old and did not know the purpose of the study. They were all asked about the professionalism, competence and reliability of the doctors. Physicians were also rated on their accessibility, empathy, and trustworthiness.
Out of 7 doctors, 5 doctors went to the final study. One doctor felt uncomfortable wearing fake tattoos, while the other didn’t have enough patients.
The results of the study were as follows;
- There was no difference in how the patients perceived the doctors, with or without the tattoos or piercings.
- All doctors were questioned positively, regardless of tattoos and piercings.
- Patients’ age did not affect their perception of physicians.
- The majority of patients didn’t even notice that doctors had tattoos or piercings.
- Patients who noticed a doctor had a tattoo usually responded by saying they liked the tattoo.
As we can see in this study, patients were totally okay with their doctors having tattoos or piercings. Nobody had a problem with the untraditional appearance of the doctors, and some even thought it was cool that the doctors had tattoos. All patients were completely satisfied with the professionalism, empathy, care and treatment of the doctors they received.
Certainly, the perception of doctors and their personal expression through body art is changing, and what was once taboo and unacceptable, is now completely normal. However, this does not mean that every community accepts tattooed doctors. Of course, more conservative societies would criticize such a departure from tradition even today.
So even though this particular study, and many other studies, show a positive reaction to doctors with tattoos, many still advise doctors to get tattoos in an easily hidden spot or to cover their tattoos while in labor. Some doctors believe that the patient should not focus on the tattoo, but on the doctor.
What about hospital policies?
The truth is that the majority of hospitals have certain policies regarding tattoos, placement of tattoos, and their visibility. The rules surely vary from hospital to hospital, but almost all hospital policies state that tattoos must be covered during working hours.
However, there are hospitals and clinics where doctors and medical staff are allowed to have a visible tattoo. But, there are also hospitals where doctors and medical staff cannot have tattoos, not even covered. The same goes for piercings.
Even though these are unwritten rules, the problem lies in an employer’s ability to provide dress code and appearance policies for employees. Of course, no one should be discriminated against for their choices, and those choices should not be the reason for the lack of work opportunities. But, again, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) allows employers to develop dress code and appearance policies on their own.
What do we think?
At SavedTattoo, we surely don’t have a problem with tattooed doctors. Our doctors and healthcare professionals are human beings with different life stories, backgrounds and ideals. Just because they have tattoos or piercings doesn’t mean they won’t do a good job. Tattoos and piercings will not compromise a doctor’s ability to care for you and your health.
Unfortunately, many people associate tattoos and piercings with bad and socially unacceptable behavior. Especially when it comes to older generations, tattoos often indicate distrust, lack of self-care, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, etc.
But the tattoos just show that our doctors have a life outside the hospital. Their job is to worry about our lives, but they are human and they need to be able to express themselves without anyone feeling offended by such an act.
We certainly don’t think doctors should walk around the hospital with obscene tattoos that would make people feel really uncomfortable and offended. But if the tattoos are creative, stylish, and tastefully done, we don’t really see a problem with doctors getting tattoos.
Check out the resources below if you want to give it a try:
All in all, it can be said that despite some negative misconceptions, there has been a revolution in tattooing and the way tattooed doctors are viewed. If we were to write such an article 10 or 15 years ago, perhaps the conclusion would have been different. But now it can be said that doctors can surely have tattoos and choose to express themselves however they wish; with tattoos, piercings or even crazy hair color.
Certainly, doctors must follow hospital policies, and if asked to cover up their tattoos, they must do so. It’s also best not to get obscene or possibly offensive tattoos anywhere they’re visible. You don’t want to make your patient feel uncomfortable, despite your good work or your lack of intent to offend.
Certainly, your appearance does not define you, nor does it define your competence. It can be difficult to juggle personal and professional life, especially if you are a doctor. So try to find common ground, consult with your superiors, and act in accordance with your hospital policies.
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