My Body Is Not My Resume: Exploring Nursing Dress Codes

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    Long gone are the days of "nursing whites", but should our dress codes be even more relaxed? Is society ready for nurses and other healthcare professionals with tattoos, colorful hair and body piercings? Let's explore the past, present and future of nurse dress codes.

    My Body Is Not My Resume: Exploring Nursing Dress Codes

    Let's talk dress code. I am certain that everyone has an opinion on this topic. We can discuss nursing whites versus colors or clogs versus gym shoes, but that is just too mundane! Let's dig deeper.

    Let's talk tattoos! Or, how about unnatural hair color? Oh, and piercings! That's right, let's talk about some controversial dress code topics.

    The Stats

    While it is difficult to find statistics on hair color, piercing and tattoo statistics for the general population is quite easy to find.

    It is estimated that 42% of all adults in the U.S. have at least one tattoo. 83% of all adults have had their earlobes pierced, 72% of which are female. There is an additional 14% of the U.S. population who have a body piercing other than their earlobes.

    What does this mean? Well, quite simply - it means there are a lot of people who believe that self-expression through body art is acceptable. It means that people, regardless of education, socioeconomic status or occupation, have tattoos and piercings.

    Nurses are no different. Many nurses, doctors, and other healthcare personnel have tattoos, body piercings and colorful hair. But, should they?

    Historical Perspective

    Long gone are the days of white uniform skirts, nursing caps, hose and plain shoes. The idea was that uniformity made nurses easy to identify. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities also used the all-white nurse dress code to reflect a certain image. After all, nurses were and still are the most trusted professionals around.

    However, over the years, colorful scrubs in a variety of patterns have replaced the traditional white nurse uniform. Now, in a society that supports self-expression and individuality, we are still questioning the role of the uniform for nursing professionals.

    Patients' Opinions

    While the research is limited, one study done in 2012 looked at how patients' perceived patient care providers with tattoos and or body piercings. In this study, patients were shown images of male and female patient care providers in uniform with and without tattoos and/or non-earlobe body piercings.

    The results?
    • Patients perceived the patient care providers with visible tattoos and/or body piercings as less caring, confident, reliable, attentive, cooperative, professional, efficient and approachable.
    • Patients perceived females with tattoos to be less professional than male patient care providers with similar tattoos.
    • Patients also felt that female patient care providers with visible non-earlobe piercings were less confident, professional, efficient and approachable than females with no body piercings.


    Did the patients get it right? Most of us can think of at least one tatted-up nurse who can run circles around their non-tattooed counterpart, so is there any validity in this thinking? Is this where we are today?

    A New Era

    Some people may feel that we are on the verge of a new era when it comes to tattoos, hair color and piercing policies for hospital staff. According to Becker Hospital Review, as of January 1, 2018, Mayo Clinic has instituted a new dress code.

    Becker Hospital Review reports that under this new rule, tattoos "may be visible if the images or words do not convey violence, discrimination, profanity or sexually explicit content. Tattoos containing such messages must be covered with bandages, clothing or cosmetics. Mayo Clinic reserves the right to judge the appearance of visible tattoos".

    Mayo Clinic has long been known for its professional appearance and conduct of employees. The hospital continues to stress that all employees are expected to project a professional appearance and demeanor.

    Mayo Clinic is not the first or the last healthcare facility that will change their dress code policy. Industries outside of healthcare have been feeling this shift for many years. There are simply many people in healthcare that feel that allowing these forms of self-expression will make patients feel uncomfortable or less trusting of the staff in general.

    How Do You Feel?

    Do you have tattoos? If so, have you ever felt judged by administration, other healthcare professionals or patients because of your tattoos or piercings?

    Do you believe that nurses and other healthcare professionals should not have visible tattoos or piercings or keep them covered? I would love to hear how you feel.
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    60 Comments

  3. by   Elfriede
    ´Thanks Melissa Mills !

    Our company has no problems with body jewelry or paintings in any way --- as long the standards of hygiene are followed.
    But --- some patients are afraid. So it´s the task of the care-case-management to find a solution.
    Case by case decition.
  4. by   VivaLasViejas
    I have two tattoos and am planning on getting more. They are on my forearms---one is a caduceus with the letters RN on either side, and the other is a semicolon for suicide prevention awareness. I got them relatively late in life and am proud of them. That said, I would be willing to cover them up if the dress code requires it. I'd prefer not to, of course, but I don't have a "thing" about showing off tattoos. After all, some people still view them as unprofessional or tacky, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone. (Although how anyone could be offended by my tats is beyond my understanding.)

    It makes things easier now that I don't work. But if I did, I'd conform to the expectations of the unit I'd be working on. It's not that hard.
  5. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from Elfriede
    ´Thanks Melissa Mills !

    Our company has no problems with body jewelry or paintings in any way --- as long the standards of hygiene are followed.
    But --- some patients are afraid. So it´s the task of the care-case-management to find a solution.
    Case by case decition.
    I personally think case-by-case is the way to go. There is not a "one size fits all" answer, in my opinion. It is a delicate balance though.

    Melissa
  6. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from VivaLasViejas
    I have two tattoos and am planning on getting more. They are on my forearms---one is a caduceus with the letters RN on either side, and the other is a semicolon for suicide prevention awareness. I got them relatively late in life and am proud of them. That said, I would be willing to cover them up if the dress code requires it. I'd prefer not to, of course, but I don't have a "thing" about showing off tattoos. After all, some people still view them as unprofessional or tacky, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone. (Although how anyone could be offended by my tats is beyond my understanding.)

    It makes things easier now that I don't work. But if I did, I'd conform to the expectations of the unit I'd be working on. It's not that hard.
    I think it great that you could conform, if needed. I think for many people, conforming feels uncomfortable, even a bit like self-betrayal. We are each unique individuals and have different opinions for sure.

    Thanks for your thoughts! ~Melissa
  7. by   ctdfmags
    I have two full sleeves on my arms and I will typically wear a long sleeve shirt under my scrub top or wear a light hoodie when I'm at work. (I get super cold, anyway).
    I love my tattoos, and it's not that I think having tattoos in unprofessional or unacceptable in this field. However, when I am at work I am playing a role. When I'm not in my scubs, I'm an artistic 22 year old. When I am in my scrubs, I'm a medical professional.

    All of my regular patients know I have tattoos though, and they'll ask to look at them and talk to me about them. And I work in geriatrics!
  8. by   bugya90
    My company's policy is visible tattoos are ok as long as they are not vulgar, racist, or sexually explicit. It is also up to manager's discretion and if they are not deemed acceptable then they must be covered. I've never heard of anyone having an issue with the policy or having to cover a tattoo due to not being appropriate. Piercings are no more than two earring per ear and you cannot wear lip, nose or eyebrow piercings at work (although I have seen managers let small nose studs slide). Policy says hair must be of natural color but again managers have let the dark purples and dark ombre colors slide, but not the bright pinks or greens.
  9. by   Munch
    I get a lot of compliments on my tattoos especially the one on my forearm. Its a heart that says dad in the middle(think the old school mom in heart tattoo bikers had) with a purple ribbon for pancreatic cancer(how my dad died) with 2002(year he died) and USMC(he was a marine) above and below the heart respectively. The purple ribbon is below the USMC. The colors are so bright and look brand new even though its over 6 years old. Patients are always asking me about it, where I got it done and complimenting me on the colors.

    My sister has a lot more ink than I do and she works in a different hospital than I do as a social worker. She has to keep her ink covered up. She wears a lot of long sleeve jackets and cardigans.
  10. by   klone
    In my area of nursing (OB) it seems like a lot of the younger moms can better relate to the nurse if she has tats. I would say a good 25% of the nurses in my unit have full sleeves. I couldn't care less about tattoos and piercings, as long as they do their job well.
  11. by   Kitiger
    I advise teens & young adults to either avoid tats or have them in an area that can be covered if necessary at work. Many of these kids do not yet know what type of profession they might choose, and not all professions are open to tats. I wouldn't want them to lose opportunities due to tats or piercings.

    I offer this advice if they ask, and I'm not hurt if they choose to do it anyway.

    Personally, I object to facial piercings, especially in the nose. It looks like snot to me. And piercings in the eyebrows look uncomfortable and so make me feel uncomfortable. I find myself smoothing my own eyebrows.

    Am I old-fashioned? Yep.
    Last edit by Kitiger on Jan 15 : Reason: spelling ARRAGH!
  12. by   marienm, RN, CCRN
    I work in a hospital without many restrictions (nurses are even allowed to wear T-shirts with the hospital logo or the local college team...although we are not affiliated with the college at all!) There are some great nurses with lots of tattoos. I see fewer with unnatural hair colors, though there are a few. Personally, I think dyed hair can look a little shabby if the color isn't maintained...the faded out pink streaks or the roots growing in don't do much for me. That doesn't mean I think they are bad nurses, I just think it looks a little sloppy.

    Reading another post above, though, made me laugh a bit: I have natural colored hair that I always put up completely, I don't have tattoos & don't wear nailpolish or makeup, I wear the required scrubs for my unit (which are always wrinkled because they come that way from the linen department...speaking of sloppy!) BUT, I have 3 holes in each earlobe with a stud in each! I guess even that wouldn't fly at some hospitals!
  13. by   adventure_rn
    In my experience, it varies greatly depending on the region as well. When I worked in a rural town in the southeast, visible tattoos, piercings, and 'non-natural' hair colors were not permitted. I now work in a major city on the west coast, and the attitude toward tattoos, piercings and purple hair is much more laid back.
  14. by   frogtat2
    I have 5 tattoos . However, they are placed in such a way that my scrubs cover them completely. I live in a very rural area that is slow to change. There are many people who are still offended by ink, and especially by a woman with ink. For those people, I'm just a nurse who is taking care of them. However, if I have a patient come in with tats, I can start a conversation with them about their ink, and why they have that particular tat. (Most tats have a meaning behind them, some emotional component attached to the image). I feel like this enhances the relationship I'm able to build with my patient; inevitably once I ask about their ink, they ask if I have any and it opens the door to a common ground. For me, it's the best of both worlds.

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