Tattoos at work—show off or cover up?

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Clay Adams | July 16th, 2014

77868792Most of my career has been spent around ink. As a journalist, my life was dependent on two things – a contact book and a pen.

In those days (cue rolling eyes and “old fart talking” comments here) we had to keep track of people we interviewed or needed for stories in a little black – truly, it was – book. An interview was done using a pen with comments transcribed in shorthand on a pad of real paper.

The crap I wrote (as many an editor described it) was printed in newspapers and magazines done on printing presses as big as a truck and as loud as my father-in-law. We used ink for newsletters, brochures, booklets and copiers. Ah, the unforgettable smell of bromide paper.

Today, in the age of cell phones and digital media, ink has taken on a totally different meaning. Today, you talk ink; you talk body art. As in tattoos.

Ink = tattoo

No matter where you go, tattoos are everywhere. I see tattoos on arms, legs, ankles, calves, breasts, necks, wrists and fingers. I have seen people with their entire head engulfed in artwork and others with almost no virgin flesh remaining. A tribute, literally, to The Illustrated Man

Now I have nothing against tattoos. In fact, my lovely wife recently got her first – and, she says, only – tattoo. It is of a hummingbird and a flower on her shoulder blade. Why a hummingbird? Because they come to our yard on a regular basis and are both fun and cute to watch. I pointed out to her that we get squirrels and raccoons as well but the look on her face suggested that suggestion was a no go.

According to research in 2010 almost one-third of Americans have a tattoo.  About half of them have as many as five, while 18%have six or more.  Considering there are over 318 million people in the US, that is a heckuva  lot of tattoos. And a lot of tattoo shops. Over 21,000 in fact. Body art is a $1.65 billion industry it seems.

As mentioned, I have nothing against body art. I suppose if you have invested the dollars to be inked, then you want the world to see your living canvas. Ironically, research shows that while people get tattoos for different reasons, over 70% of them say they are hidden from view with men more likely than women to show theirs off (23% versus 13%).

Tattoo = cool

So the question is, why? If you have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars to permanently paint your body, then why not show it off as much as possible? The answer is perception.

For my generation (cue rolling eyes and “old fart talking” comments again), tattoos were associated with unsavory types. To sport a tattoo meant you weren’t someone to mess with (although, in fairness, all the tattooed lads I knew back in Oz were actually really charming, generous individuals who were more interested in knocking back beers than knocking heads). It was – like smoking – almost a rite of passage for some.

While smoking today is – thankfully – in decline, tattoos are not. They now adorn lawyers, doctors, teachers, house makers and child care workers. Why? Because almost 30% of people believe their tattoo makes them feel rebellious. Even more said it makes them feel sexy. Ironically, 17% admit having regrets after being inked and yet only 5% said a tattoo made them feel more intelligent.

Tattoos at work

So with tattoos becoming so common today, what does that mean for the workplace? Should we be showing off or covering up?

Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare bans visible tattoos on employees at its hospitals across the US while Boeing, Wal-Mart and Subway are okay with them as long as they are “non-offensive” (just Google images of “bad tattoos” and you will see no shortage of them – just be warned as people do some pretty dumb things to their bodies).

The concern is that some may take you less seriously if you’re sporting tattoos or excessive piercings. The draft VCH Professional Image Policy I recently saw (scheduled to formally roll out later this summer) does not mention tattoos but does stipulate that jewelry and piercings beyond earlobes should be kept from view. But that is for safety, not aesthetics.

Colorado osteopath Amanda Hersh pushed the envelope as a med student by refusing to hide her body art, claiming simply that “This is part of who I am”.

Many professional recruiters advise job candidates not to display tattoos in case those interviewing them are prejudice against body art. It is not unusual for doctors to cover up, just in case a patient is intimidated or find them less credible than an inkless doctor.  Santa Rosa, California doctor, mother and part-time blogger Dr. Vero has a thoughtful blog on the issue of doctors and tattoos that is worth a read.

Show off or cover up?

So what do you think? Do tattoos impact your credibility in the work place? Do you show off or cover up? Share your thoughts and comments. You might even want to share a photo or two of your own body art. Just keep it clean please, although I doubt anyone wants to willingly share their “what was I thinking?” moment for all anyway.



About the Author

Clay Adams

Clay Adams is vice president of Communications and Public Affairs and has extensive experience in strategic communications and planning, media relations, issues management and stakeholder communications in Australia and Canada. Clay writes on communication related topics with a wry humorous style and has an interest in discussion about how we want to be understood by others. View all the posts by Clay.

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54 comments on “Tattoos at work—show off or cover up?

  • Violet says:

    I don’t think it matters what color your skin is people are predjudice anyway. so let them judge they will anyway. And if you don”t get a job because the interviewer is judging you by your tatoo then is it where you would want to work anyway? I wouldn’t want to work in a place where I was judged by my appearance not my ability. It’s only colored skin and we should not judge people by the color of their skin should we. How professional is that.???

  • Sonja says:

    I am not opposed to tattoos showing at the workplace, but in all honesty they can attract attention, that may pull attention away from the client. I do not have a black/white opinion on the matter, more of a hot/cold. If it’s too hot to cover up I allow them to show, but professionally speaking, I do not want my tattoos to become the center of the conversation, that is meant to focus on the client. Long and short, not a big deal to most clients when they know that they are the center of their provider’s attention.

  • Asian health care professional says:

    I think something to keep in mind is that tattoos also are perceived differently by different cultures. In many Asian countries (e.g. Japan) a tattoo is the mark of the mafia. So if you had a Japanese patient who was new to Canada, your tattoos could make them uncomfortable! In Japan individuals with tattoos are asked to leave public places, like hotels and hot spring resorts, for the safety of their clientele.

    • Tarra Cochran-Young says:

      But this isn’t Japan, so wouldn’t that be something they would have to get used to here? We should change our ways because it doesn’t fit into another countries culture?

  • AnnieP says:

    I am not rebellious and my tattoo is not “trendy body art”. It is a memorial tattoo.
    Compassion, kindness and a great bedside manner, along with excellent care, far usurp any superficial markings on someone’s skin.

  • GD says:

    When I got my first tattoo my mother told me how bad it looked and asked why I would ever do such a thing to my body. 17 years later she got her own tattoo on her forearm at the age of 72. Perceptions change over time and if it isn’t harming anyone then it should be left alone.

  • marianne says:

    Personally, I think tattoos show that a person is creative and can think outside the box. Generally, people get tattoes of something that means something to them, or just for esthetics. Get over it folks, tattoos have nothing to do with credibility, intelligence or professionalism. Unless of course, they are offensive.

    • Clay Adams says:

      Thanks for the comment Marianne. One of things I find bewildering about tattoos is why people choose what they do for body art. Some make obvious sense from my naive – and likely ignorant – perspective (references to loved ones or occasions; visually stunning graphics; etc.) but what I don’t understand are the ones who have such a ramshackle array of tatts that there seems no rhyme or reason (ie. a rose in one area; a ghostly skull image in another; and a Betty Boop and blood-dripping grizzly bear in another). Some just seem like it is a body art for the sake of body art. Is that the wearer or the artist driving such things? Am curious about what drives people to do what they do.

      • Kaitlynn Pearmain says:

        The beautiful thing about our country, and the year in which we are living, is that art is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. I know many people who are adorned in the art because it makes them happy, and it makes them feel beautiful. They treat themselves as a journal. Simple as that. And yes, skulls and roses, and even blood-dripping grizzly bears in the form of tattoos can be, for certain people, the most beautiful thing in the world for someone.
        Another wonderful thing, is that people are taking ownership of their own bodies- this is new for the world as many years ago, we were not allowed to make these choices for ourselves (beacuse of cultural restraints, religious reasons…)
        So, think about it like this. An oppressed group of individuals, such as people who have been told that putting art on their body will make them look less dependable and safe, are finally being given the chance to not be seen that way. The only way to challenge stigma is to say, “HEY, I SEE YOU DON’T LIKE MY TATTOOS. I’M GOING TO GET MORE SO YOU CAN SEE I DON’T CARE.” And this is working. They more people challenge the stigma of tattoos, the more people will have to adjust to this new way of life. The more skulls I have seen on bodies, the less likely I assumed they were scary individuals. Now they do not phase me. I can’t remember the last time I was worried about someone based on art upon their body.
        As a tattooed individual, I treat my body as a journal. You can read it and enjoy it, you can ask about it, you can judge it. But never will I cover it up or be ashamed. Even if I get a blood-dripping grizzly bear right on my forehead. I also work a government job with clients in the mental health system in Vancouver. I am so thrilled and proud of VCH, as I was not told to cover my tattoos on my arms once this summer. Vancouver is heading in a great direction.

  • Ali says:

    I find it fascinating the amount of people are saying that the Older Adult population finds tattoos off putting. Yet, those of us that work with the Older Adult population keep pointing out that this is not true. First off, the Older Adult population is increasingly made up of Baby Boomers, who grew up in the 60s, and 70s and have tattoos and piercings themselves. Perhaps the people who are saying this need to look inwards at their own biases and judgments and find out where this preconceived notion of the Older Adults and tattoos are coming from.
    Professional dress and image is about more than tattoos and piercings. It is about being appropriately dressed, with proper footwear and hand hygiene.
    Instead of focusing on tattoos and piercings (seriously, how is a small nose ring unhygienic?), perhaps it should be focusing on proper footwear (Anyone who works on a ward should NOT have open toed shoes, bedside worker or not) hand hygiene (fake nails are disgusting and a far larger infection control risk) and having hair neatly pulled back.
    I have worked with many staff with tattoos and piercings and have never, ever been told that a nurse looks unprofessional because of it, or professional in spite of it.
    Actually, now that I think about it more, those staff are usually the ones that patients and clients praise, because they have such a high respect for autonomy and self worth.

  • Anne says:

    When people say that tattoos are unprofessional, I just wonder how they arrived at that conclusion.

    Honest question: What is it about tattoos that’s unprofessional, or why do people view them as unprofessional? I’d really like to understand this more.

  • AJ says:

    Getting a tattoo can also signify that your body belongs to you and not society, your employer, medical science or any other institution. You are making a statement that only you are the owner of your body.

  • Pauline Smith Deane says:

    From a seniors perspective:
    Tattoo’s or body art are away of life today and an expression of who the person is. Quite honestly i find people more interesting if they have tattoos and if you care to engage in conversation about them you can learn a lot.
    Please don’t have these beautiful works of art covered in the workplace because of a few biased old school thinking people

  • CC says:

    I concur with previous posters that piercings and tattoos should be up to the individual, not workplace to regulate unless they pose an actual harm to the client (ie. infection or hate speech). It is important that the employer recognizes the biases they may hold which may actually be discriminatory to some people. I would also be interested in the evidence around infection control regarding most piercings as regular standard precautions should protect most clients from infection. Whether or not someone likes tattoos is not important. We should ask, are we shaming our colleagues? Are we being patient centered by stating professionalism is something valued based on someones body art? not their ability to do their job and be excellent in their client service?

  • Vee says:

    As someone who is both tattoed & pierced I can honestly say neither has negatively affected my interactions with clients (predominantly geriatric) or co-workers. When it comes to my personal interactions with health care providers (my Dr/dentist/physiotherapist, etc)… I don’t care if they are tattoed or pierced. What I do care about is personal hygiene –> wash your hands! pop a mint after lunch! On another note, I am astounded by the number of health care workers who cough into their hand instead of their sleeve. Ewww!
    I am in awe of those who have good ink!

  • anon says:

    A tattoo is art and some people choose to hang their art, others choose to display them on their body. I don’t believe that having tattoos should alter anyone’s perception of one another. All art has some sort of meaning behind them and if I’m going to take my tattoos to my grave, then it should mean something to me.

    That being said I don’t think people should show off or cover up their tattoos! Let it be. Appreciate individuality. Its 2014! Keep up with the times.

  • matt says:

    Tattoos are so common these days, I think it makes one more unique/rebellious/… by not having them.

    That said, I believe a tattoo will be perceived as ‘unprofessional’ by a decent percentage of our patients. Most are from an older generations and/or from different cultures.

    Like it or not,
    – people make assumptions based on appearance.
    – most (>90%?) of our patients (in cardiac services at least) are not inked

    – So, to come across as reasonably professional, don’t go crazy overboard with the tats (that your patients will see).

    My $0.02

    • cc says:

      Should we make assumptions that someone without tattoos would be put off by someone who has them? I work in the downtown eastside and many of my co workers and clients have tattoos. It doesn’t get in the way of critical thinking, caring and professional, timely care.

  • Diana says:

    I think image in the workplace is very important, especially if you are dealing directly with the public. I find this has deteriorated more and more over the years and really needs an urgent overhaul!

    • Clay Adams says:

      And that is exactly why VCH is piecing together a Professional Appearance Policy. While it will outline some expectations of safe and appropriate dress in the workplace, it is more about being aware of sending positive messages around your professional approach and demeanor. I watched an interview with a doctor today from out east speaking about a health issue. While articulate, he had a ruffled, open shirt and was slouching. Not being horrible but it just failed to convey the sense of seriousness one might expect from a physician speaking on behalf of a large organization. I suppose I’m as guilty as anyone of perception bias. Thanks Diana for the comment.

  • merideth frost says:

    I am an LPN with VCH as well as a HCA
    Instructor at a local University. I have a 1/2 arm tattoo on either arm. By no
    means what so ever does the fact that I have color on my skin effect my ability
    to give amazing care to all of my patients, weather in ER, Med/Surg,or my
    Geriatric Residents. Getting my tattoos also did not effect my intelligence or
    my ability to learn. When I am caring for my patients 85% of the time I will
    get a nice compliment about them and we will talk about them, this in turn for
    a whole 2-5 minutes will take their mind off of their disease or their illness
    long enough to smile and have a laugh about something else other than why they
    are in hospital!! There’s a saying with tattoos and many have heard it: the
    only difference between people who have tattoos and people who do not is that
    the people who have tattoos don’t care that you don’t have one!!! Lets worry
    about the patients and not what I do in my spare time!!

  • Terri says:

    I’m with Niki. When we get to the old folks’
    home, a lot of us will have ink!

    As for
    me, I’m a pharmacist with a fairly extensive Japanese-themed garden on my back.
    Lots of intricate bamboo, and chrysanthemum blossoms in memory of my late
    father, who used to grow them as a hobby. He would cut my mother and I HUGE
    bouquets of them from the garden in the fall. When I asked my tattoo artist if
    I was one of her older clients (at age 55) she told me she’s tattooed clients
    as old as 80; and lots of “professionals,” e.g. doctors, lawyers.

    to ask if I was her first pharmacist.

  • Tiffany says:

    Just like a haircut, makeup, or clothing
    choices – tattoos are personal choices for people that allow them to express
    themselves. If an organization was to not allow tattoos, what about makeup,
    earrings, etc? Where do we draw the line?

    I go to a hospital or health care centre to
    receive health care, not to judge someone’s personal style. Whether someone has
    a tattoo has no effect on the care I receive.

    If anything I may judge health care workers on
    their healthy habits, rather than any tattoos they have.

    • Clay Adams says:

      Thanks Tiffany. Your final comment is one that certainly puts the issue of tattoos and perception in context: “…I may judge health care workers ontheir healthy habits, rather than any tattoos they have”. If we are not careful, we could find ourselves in an environment where health workers need to be of a certain weight and fitness level and where looks rather than skills and personal dynamics are the priority. A frightening thought – and one that would likely force me down a new career path for a start!

    • AnnieP says:

      Nobody should be “judging” anyone! How do you know what someone’s healthy habits are based on appearance??!?? What I glean from your statement is that, for example, if someone is overweight they don’t have healthy habits and will be judged….but a thinner person must have healthy habits? You should take your last statement under consideration and try to understand why you would make that judgement in the first place. Terrible.

  • Greg says:

    “Only an illiterate man would judge a book by its cover without at least reading a little of it…”

    I am a little saddened that this topic is even being discussed. I do understand we are dealing with people’s perceptions. But if these perceptions were preconceived and are ultimately inaccurate, how much consideration do they really deserve?

    I am certain that some elderly patients might be less comfortable receiving care from an individual with visible tattoos. However, these same individuals are old enough that they have likely witnessed far more serious discrimination throughout their lives. Given the era in which they grew up, some might even subscribe to them. If an elderly patient was uncomfortable receiving care from someone of a given religion or ethnicity, would/should we cater to that? I think we can all agree that the answer is “absolutely not”. Some people have lighter skin, some people have darker skin, and it just so happens that some have chosen to have skin that is all the colors of the rainbow. We are all just PEOPLE.

    I have known caregivers sporting tattoos in jeans and a t-shirt that provide warm, excellent care. At the same time, I have known others sporting suits and ties that deliver cold, abysmal care. The caliber of care we provide comes from the person WITHIN, and has so very little to do with the way we look or dress. Judge me by my actions, not my photograph.

    I can’t count the number of times I hear patients saying “Thank you for taking such good care of me, you were wonderful.” I have yet to hear a single patient say “Thank you for taking such good care of me, you were wonderful . . . despite your tattoos.”

    If the caliber of care is not impacted (i.e. by elevating risk of infection), then I don’t think something as trivial as an aesthetic choice should not even be up for discussion.

  • Diana says:

    Looks like people are interested in this topic seeing that it generated so much discussion. Great article Clay!

    Company Culture and Senior Leadership
    I know of some newer age companies (particularly in the social media industry) that are open and accepting of body art. For these companies tattoos are a norm and automatically accepted just as readily as the natural colour of someone’s skin is accepted. Some companies, such as Whole Foods Market, even have top executives with tattoos that are visible in the workplace. Leading by example is a powerful thing…

    Having said that, I know of other companies, such as some Fairmont Hotel locations, that have very strict professional image policies governing even the hair colour of their employees.

    Tattoos and other things at VCH
    Ask yourself, is there a safety and/or infection risk? If wearing certain piercings put you or others at the risk of infection, then why not try to mitigate or eliminate that risk? If having visible tattoos threaten your patient’s feeling of safety, then how about wearing long sleeves when working with that particular patient? If tattoos do not actually harm anyone, can our staff feel safe and comfortable about their bodies without fear of reprimand or judgement?

    I think it really depends on individual workplace settings. And I agree with Linda Harris, “Just be with it…There is room to appreciate all aspects of our individuality.”

    I think it would be great if VCH is open and accepting of all aspects of our individuality (in situations that have no safety issues).

  • Robin says:

    article Clay, the stat about how people feel a tattoo makes them feel
    rebellious I found curious, as I couldn’t believe people think you can stick
    that thinking, behavior and spirit right on you own body just like a stamp,
    incredible, what people do with there own bodies is of course their choice.I Currently work in the DTES at DCHC and have worked in the DTES for 23 years, in that time I have seen a lot of tattoos, usually completely blurred out, runny blue purple things that say, death, hate, love, kill, etc however now and then I can be surprised, most were all acquired while incarcerated, in detention, or on the street. The one thing that as become quite obvious here is the proliferation of tattoos among health and support workers in the DTES, it’s pretty much thought,at least I feel that, you need them to get a job, impress your potential new boss, or hit the ultimate groove/ street cred with our clients/ patients, which of course I don’t believe our patients/ clients believe that’s the case at all,95% of all new workers (support/housing/tenant/outreach) etc female and male I see down here are all tatted up, and they think there individualism and new identities surface easily, even though
    nowadays its as generic as fast food, and is distilled down into one of the
    many uniforms we all wear or have to wear in our society. I’m sure other labor/work sectors are also experiencing similar things. It seems now every kid and adult out there between 18 and 45 are sporting ink, and then there’s the grandparents, they of course don’t want to be left out.

    • Clay Adams says:

      Great comment Robin and one that truly articulates the challenge of tattoos and body art in the workplace. What someone (like me) might find odd, another of a different generation/background/mindset/influence might find perfectly acceptable or even a plus. I can absolutely see how a feeling of camaraderie could develop with clients in certain situations. I also find the motivation behind tattoos equally fascinating. Whether it be peer pressure, acceptance, a spirit of rebellion or simply the high that comes with the experience (and I hear from those who have tattoos that the process is a kind of rush that artists say is what often brings people back for more), there are clearly many reasons why people want them – and an equal number of reasons why people don’t. An overarching question I suppose is how VCH feels about them in the workplace. Should we be a leader and reference them in our proposed Professional Image policy or simply defer judgement of what is – and isn’t – appropriate to our managers and leaders?

  • Clay Adams says:

    In case you missed it, a Canadian model is taking tattoos to an entirely new level it seems:

  • Niki says:

    I am a nurse, have a small hidden tattoo because of the stigma associated with them. I would love to let my freak flag fly but the reality is we still live in an oppressive society. Pretty soon however, when I am old and in a nursing home, at least 50% of us seniors will have them 🙂 Glad to be a small part of the liberation of self expression for the next generation.

  • Linda Harris says:

    Don’t show off or cover up. Just be with it. Tattoos are art and part of our culture. Some patients may not personally like tattoos, others may connect on a deeper level with that tattooed staff member. There is room to appreciate all aspects of our individuality.

  • CI says:

    I am not a fan of tattoos. I believe it is a personal choice but I believe that they should be covered up. I don’t think they look professional. Having said that I really wish VCH would have a very strict policy on hand hygiene and fake nails.

    • Clay Adams says:

      You might be pleased to know then that “prosthetic nails or nail art” have been identified in the draft Professional Appearance policy as a concern due to infection control and safety issues. Again, the policy is still being worked through and remains a draft.

      • Vocie says:

        It surprises me that firstly this has never been addressed and secondly it needs any work to know what an infection control problem jewelry and fake nails are.
        It has been standard policy in the UK and EU for many a year with a ton of evidence to show the huge risk these adornments pose to patient care.

  • wa says:

    My first perception when I glimpse a coloured tattoo is that the person has psoriasis or some other skin condition. Not surprisingly, I’m not a big fan.

  • BA says:

    I think ink is great to look at – at the beach. At work, my opinion is that only small inoffensive tats should be seen. Inking is a big industry, however the tattoo removal industry is growing very rapidly.

  • tb says:

    Your body, your choice. No one has the right to objectify your physical appearance. VCH is apparently still in the dark ages. How about this ? Remove the infection control screen saver that won 2nd place – which is incredibly distasteful. There’s a real topic to bring up.

    Police your own body.

    • Clay Adams says:

      The screen saver you mention was recently removed from VCH computers as a result of some concerns. By no means was there any intent to offend and the fact that a number of employees voted for the screen saver image demonstrates the challenge of perception. Be it tattoos, stereotyping or definitions of good/bad taste, so much is truly in the eye of the beholder. Thanks TB for sharing your thoughts.

      • tb says:

        It is not a matter of perception- it is flat out Racism.
        The woman in that picture also lost her home in a fire, first and foremost, her response/caption was ridiculed and made into racial stereotyping that was widely circulated, and condemned. It baffles me that VCH promotes Culturally Sensitive Care and our Respectful Work Policy, yet, does something like that. There really is no excuse, it is a direct contravention. Intent is irrelevant. I think this leads well into my next part:

        VCH should be focusing on an Anti-Oppression Policy+Practices, not a Professional Image Policy. That would be contemporary, instead of resurrecting archaic notions of appearance, especially since I have never yet in my work ever stopped to think or judge someone by their appearance, or had concerns, nor even a right. Did you ever consider some of the language presented might make LGBT, or those dealing with weight issues, body image issues, etc- feel incredibly uncomfortable ? I hope you address this and take that into consideration if this is going ahead.

        I respect the fact I am not being censored, that, I do give credit for. I have hope one day VCH will embrace and move onto modern progressive values, to truly be leading the way. Not tattoos and regulating peoples’ bodies/appearances.

        Thank you.

        • SG says:

          Anti-oppression policies. LOVE IT!

          I too have tattoos, and I find it frustrating there is so much time spent on talking about piercings, tattoos, hair colour, etc. There are bigger fish to fry!

          My personality, my professionalism and my work ethic shines through, regardless of the colour of my hair (which is fake blond) or the tattoo on my arm (which is a tree) or by the blazers I wear (which I do because people do recognize it as more professional)…

          Humans judge, it’s what we do, but we need to unpack our judgements whether than regulate things that make us ‘uncomfortable’.

          My father always said “&$^* come in all colours, shapes and sizes” – words of wisdom from a garbage man. It’s not what’s on the outside that counts. It really isn’t and remuerating on topics of ‘style’, ‘hair’, makeup, etc. don’t do us justice, in fact it agains lends to the faciliation of an ‘ideal’ image or acceptance thereof.

          Can any of you tell me the perfect ‘ideal’ image? Of course you can; however, it is all in the eye of the beholder.

          My 2 cents.

    • Just a note to correct an error made by tb. The screensaver that was removed was not about infection control. It was about a meme contest that the privacy office ran in VCH News in May as an awareness activity.

  • John Carsley says:

    When I was a young and hirsute family doc, seeing my patients in jeans and t-shirts, I quickly realized that my (mainly elderly) patients didn’t think this was the height of professionalism, so on went the tie and white lab coat.

    We are supposed to be delivering patient-centred care. Most folks are not put out by a few tats, but absolutely no one is put out by their absence. Professionals and staff hold the power in these relationships; most of our VCH clients didn’t choose to end up in hospital and rarely have a choice of which professionals and other staff care for them when they are there.

    So let’s keep our visible tats for private practices, where our patients and clients are free to leave if we discomfit them..

  • AS says:

    I love my ink, and love seeing other people’s ink. In no way do I think it discredits a person if their body art is visible in the workplace. If anything, I think it allows us to recognize one another as human beings whose lives and personalities extend beyond these walls. I find it interesting to hear people talk about how tattoos may intimidate some patients. We should also remember that for every person who is intimidated or offended by tattoos, there is another patient who would feel so much more relaxed and at ease if the nurse or lab tech treating them had some awesome sleeves about which to make easy conversation during their procedure.

    • Clay Adams says:

      Thanks AS. I raised your perspective with some clinical colleagues last night who, as probably expected, are of a generation that feels tattoos should best be kept from view. It garnered some interesting reaction as they had not considered there could be clients who would connect better with a care giver who visibly shared a common interest (body art). It was certainly food for thought. Thanks again.

      • AS says:

        Thanks Clay. 🙂

        I would also like to add one more thought. As a patient in labour & delivery several years ago, I recall each of the nurses who cared for my baby & I. The only one whose manner of dress stood out to my family members and I was one who had really long, artificial nails. I was SO uncomfortable watching her handle my brand new baby with those nails. The other nurses had tattoos, but not one of my family members even noticed or remembers the ink. We all remember those nails, to this day. She was neatly dressed, well-groomed, and likely the epitome of “professional appearance”; however the nails have both safety and infection control implications. I have not been able to think of any comparable risks associated with a tattoo, as long as it’s healed before coming to work.

  • Vocie says:

    Tattoos can be intimidating to many of our elderly clients, I for one feel they are becoming too prevalent in the workplace , there was a time you saw the odd one on a forearm or calf, these days you see some have full body tats showing at neck lines, full arms, and full legs shown off with revealing clothing (men and women), and I for think it is rather unprofessional when its taken to such extremes.
    I also feel the same about facial piercings, eyebrow, lips and especially tongs, quite apart from the infection control issues they represent, they simply look out of place in a professional workplace.
    And this is not about moving with the times, tats have been around for centuries, I have some myself, I just chose to have them in a place I could easily cover at work as I realise I’m a professional and act accordingly, part of being a professional is having certain standards when dealing with the public and clients, we should never put barriers to care out of some ill conceived view of vanity.

    • : ) says:

      This is actually untrue. There is evidence linking younger generations have better rapport and clinical outcomes with the Older Adult Population, elderly is also not the best choice of terms, it is a stigmatizing term, ageist. I think that is your subjective, anecdotal view that it is ill-conceived vanity, and not for those we provide care for, at least on a collective level. My primary clinical experience has been in the Older Adult Population, across the many areas that entails, and my appearances have been nothing but beneficial with building rapport and improving prognosis. Why ? Because they don’t really care about those things. It’s because am engaged, laugh, smile and invigorating.
      Which I think there is a correlation between those who “look out of place” and incredibly positive traits that translate well in care delivery. However, I do not have tattoos up and down my arms or “revealing clothing”, but maybe I do hold an ‘unconventional appearance’. Older Adults are autonomous, strong, and much more vigorous than most realize, instead of old notions and patronizing ideas of them being fearful, frail/defenseless and “old-fashioned”. Be it dementia to acute medical dx. When they are engaged with those positive attributes, especially from a younger/youngish generation, the professional and therapeutic relationship flourishes.
      So do they.

  • Kate says:

    I think this is an interesting discussion topic, however I for one do not believe we should be telling people to cover up their tattoo based on how someone may or may not perceive them. Society has a long history of discrimination against women, people of different ethnic backgrounds, and people who come from a different socio-economic status, to name a few. What does all of that have in common with passing judgement on people based on their body art? It’s all based on superficial factors, including appearance, which has little to no bearing on someone’s ability to perform their job.

    I realise that tattoos are not yet a societal norm, and that some people from older generations may view them negatively, but if that is the argument then we should halt all change in society because of outdated views held by some individuals? Society must learn to accept change, move forward with new ideas and beliefs, and understand that there is always more to someone than just what is visible on the surface.

  • Jan says:

    Everything in moderation please.
    I have an aside question though… you state the new policy to be rolled out says “jewelry and piercings beyond earlobes should be kept from view” Does this include nose piercings/rings? I see so many of these, both male/female. How is one to keep these from view? Perhaps the policy needs to allow these to be kept. Many, many staff have them

    • Clay Adams says:

      It is an interesting question Jan and something I will share with Employee Engagement which is drafting the VCH Professional Appearance policy. Piercings are as common as body art these days and in all manner of places (that one can see at least). I know the concern around piercings, like jewelry, is infection control and safety related. Having said that, more and more piercings today are studs rather than the old fashioned hoops which reduces the risk but make it more challenging to hide. It may be as simple as managers and staff working together to determine what level of risk a piercing brings to their particular workplace and our patients/clients. I just hope common sense rather than prejudice prevails.

    • Dawn Dixon says:

      I have had my nose piercing for over 20 years and albeit back in the late 80’s or 90’s I may have worn a little gold hoop, but I have been wearing teeny tiny stud for years and years. As a matter of fact, many people don’t even notice my nose is pierced because it’s so small. Therefore, I don’t feel that nose piercings should be included on the VCH policy as being kept from view. As far as Tattoos go, I concur with Linda Harris above. Well said Linda!

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