Can Nurses Have Tattoos? A Good Think About Ink
Have you been seeing more tattoos around recently? A recent Ipsos® poll found that 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo.1 What’s more, that percentage jumps up to 40 percent for those aged 18–34.1
Once considered by many to be a taboo practice reserved for rebels, sailors and other rough-and-tumble types, this act of expression has moved from the fringes to the mainstream, particularly with the younger generations entering the workforce.
As the popularity of tattoos has risen, so have questions about their visibility in the workplace and whether their presence can cause issues for those who possess them.
Can nurses have tattoos? Are there any guidelines to stick to? Does it even matter in the eyes of employers?
These questions are especially pressing for would-be nurses who already have tattoos (or have their hearts set on getting one soon)—so what’s the verdict on tattoos in nursing?
We’ve gathered together answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about nursing and tattoos by consulting those who work in the healthcare industry. Keep reading to see their answers along with some real-world examples of specific hospital policies.
5 Major questions about nursing and tattoos answered
1. Can I get a tattoo as a nurse?
Let’s take on the biggest question right away. The simple answer is yes. A tattoo is unlikely to disqualify you from working as a nurse, though there are some important considerations to keep in mind.
Depending on your place of work, there may be rules about the types of tattoos and visibility restrictions, but these can vary greatly from place to place. In the following questions, we’ll dive more into the distinctions about what different workplaces may require of their tattooed employees.
2. What are some common hospital rules regarding tattoos?
While restrictions on tattoos may have historically been in place, many hospitals are updating their rules to match the shifting attitudes of the public. For example, the Mayo Clinic® updated its tattoo policy in 2018 from requiring employees to cover all tattoos to allowing visible tattoos “if the images or words do not convey violence, discrimination, profanity or sexually explicit content.”2 The policy goes on to state that tattoos containing such messages must be covered with either bandages, clothing or cosmetics, with the employer reserving the right to use discretion with this policy.
Mitch Peterson, clinic supervisor at M Health® Fairview®, notes that policies on tattoos have evolved over the years. Like Mayo Clinic, his organization’s policy used to be “no visible tattoos,” but in his years working, it has become more flexible. Their current policy states that “directors may ask that tattoos be covered if they may be offensive to patients or may affect safe patient treatment.” Peterson adds that in his experience both as an employee and as a supervisor in administration, he has “never once heard of an employee who had to cover their tattoos.”
While anecdotal, these examples should give aspiring nursing some degree of comfort about how tattoos will be perceived by employers. Keep it clean or covered, and you’re likely in the clear.
3. Is it legal for a hospital to ask me to cover up a tattoo?
It is important to note that most healthcare tattoo policies will have an element of employer discretion, meaning it can be the administration’s call to determine whether a visible tattoo is appropriate. Tattoos are not part of a protected classification under the law, so it is perfectly legal for an employer to ask you to cover a tattoo if they think it violates the workplace policy.3
Whether you agree with their determination of appropriateness or not, keep in mind you likely won’t have many avenues for appeal beyond looking for another employer. That said, if one employer takes issue, there’s a good chance others will as well.
4. Are there any precautions I should take before getting a tattoo?
Tattoos are a personal choice of artistic expression, but it is possible to take some precautions if you have any worries about them affecting your employment options (or would just like to avoid any covering-related hassle). Susan Gentile is a nurse at ChoicePoint Health, and the first piece of advice she gives is to familiarize yourself with hospital policy.
“Before getting a tattoo, take out some time and study your dream facility’s rules and views regarding tattoos,” says Gentile.
She would advise you to pay attention to the type of tattoo you are getting and the location, and if you are uncertain about its appropriateness at all, to opt “for a small tattoo that is easily coverable by cloth.”
5. What do I do if I have a tattoo and am not sure if it’s appropriate?
The best course of action is to have that discussion with someone in the field or at your desired place of employment. “If you are comfortable with it, discuss that with a hospital supervisor, HR or employee services, as they will be able to give you guidance,” says Peterson. “They will have a good understanding of what would be considered appropriate in their clinics given patient demographics, considerations for other staff members and any other concerns you may have.”
The perception around tattoos has changed
If you’ve had ink and nursing school on your mind, you should now feel a little more at ease regarding how they’ll pair together. Tattoos have become much more commonplace in the U.S., and hospitals are updating their policies to reflect that. Considering their immense popularity, tattoos can even be a great conversation starter between nurses and patients and provide avenues for making an immediate connection.
With the tattoo question answered, perhaps you are one step closer to pursuing a career as a nurse. If you’re looking for the inside scoop on what nursing school is like, our article “How Hard Is Nursing School? Students Tell All” can help shine a light.
1Chris Jackson, “More Americans Have Tattoos Today than Seven Years Ago,” Ipsos, August 29, 2019, [accessed September 2022], https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/more-americans-have-tattoos-today.
2Alyssa Rege, “Mayo Clinic to allow physicians, nurses to show tattoos in 2018,” Becker’s Hospital Review, December 15, 2017, [accessed September 2022], https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/mayo-clinic-to-allow-physicians-nurses-to-show-tattoos-in-2018.html.
3Robin Clark, “Tattoos, Employment, and the Law,” Prof Speak Business Law, April 11, 2022, [accessed September 2022], https://profspeak.com/tattoos-employment-and-the-law/.
Ipsos is a registered trademark of Ipsos (S.A.) Joint Stock Company France.
Mayo Clinic is a registered trademark of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research non-profit corporation.
M Health is a registered trademark of Regents of the University of Minnesota.
Fairview is a registered trademark of Fairview Health Services.