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Tattoos: A nursing taboo?

Tattoos have a long social history. According to the National Maritime Museum in the U.K., a 5,000-year-old male body was discovered adorned with tattoos. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tattoos were enjoyed by the social elite including, apparently, Winston Churchill’s mother. Later, tattoos became associated with criminal activity. In recent decades, tattoos have experienced a bit of a renaissance and are enjoyed by people of all walks of life, including professionals. However, the crossover has posed a new set of challenges in the healthcare environment.

Tattoos and Patient Perception

Should tattoos affect a patient’s perception of their nurse?

I don’t think so.

But do they?

Perhaps. Even if the perception is actually a misperception.

  • This study found that nurses are perceived as less caring, skilled and knowledgeable.
  • This study found that of a survey sample of 500, strong associations remain between individuals with tattoos and social deviance, including criminality, despite the fact that tattoo use has reached a broad range of individuals over the last several decades, many of them professionals.
  • This study reports that patients did not perceive healthcare workers with tattoos and/or body piercings as more caring, but the abstract doesn’t mention whether tattooed healthcare workers, as a whole, were perceived as less caring. However, it is noted that female providers were perceived as less professional than their male counterparts, even though tattoos were similar. Female providers with body piercings were “perceived as less confident, professional and efficient.”

Tattoos and Self-Expression

For many, having a tattoo serves as a means of self-expression and may hold special significance or meaning. According to one study, published in the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, women with tattoos were interviewed about how the tattoo affected their self-perception and behavior: “Tattoos held several meanings for participants including connection to self, life events, relationships and spirituality.”

This is true for Rachel Cockerline, RN, BSN. She volunteered at the Boston Marathon finish line with several other coworkers on April 15, 2013, the day of the bombing. Rachel, along with five other nurses who were with her that day, later decided to get a tattoo as a symbol of the day’s significance. When asked what her tattoo meant to her, Rachel said, “The tattoo is a reminder to me of a day that changed my life forever. It reminds me to enjoy what I have and not take it for granted. It also symbolizes a bond I have with five people that experienced this with me and will never be broken.”

Rachel Cockerline, RN, BSN, along with five other nurses who were at the Boston Marathon finish line the day of the 2013 bombing, decided to get a tattoo as a symbol of the day’s significance and were featured in the “Bled for Boston” photography project.

Rachel, along with her fellow nurses, were among those featured in Bled for Boston, a photography project documenting those who chose to adorn tattoos after the Boston Marathon Bombing.

For those who think tattoos and nursing shouldn’t mix, Rachel’s story might alter some of the perceptions surrounding tattoos, although hers is located on the back of her left shoulder and not visible while at work. Not all tattoos have that level of symbolism; however, some are simply images that an individual might like and some might be located on areas of the body that are easily seen.

Do you have a tattoo? What does it mean to you? Should institutions prohibit visible tattoos or should those with body art be allowed to express who they are, regardless of potential skewed perception?

By | 2020-04-06T11:09:20-04:00 June 19th, 2014|Categories: Archived|12 Comments

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