Can Nurses Have Tattoos or Piercings at Work?

can nurses have tattoos

As with many industries, working in the nursing profession comes with dress codes that dictate specific nail colors, certain hairstyles, and other forms of dress to be acceptable work attire. We all have to work within the spaces we occupy and follow the rules our organization sets forth. But what about tattoos and piercings? Can nurses have visible tattoos and piercings, or are these forms of expression considered a no no?

Tattoos tell a story for some people, and that includes me. I’m an acute care nurse practitioner with full sleeve tattoos. Meaning, my entire arms (from shoulder to wrist) are covered in tattoos. My tattoos reflect my commitment to my family, and the art I found expresses such. I work for an organization that doesn’t allow tattoos to be visible (as part of their dress code). This was something I was aware of before getting my tattoos and decided to proceed anyway.

When someone finds out I work in the medical field, their first question is always related to my tattoos, as if this artistic expression would hinder me in some way. In my case, my tattoos do not impede nor restrict me from work or employment opportunities.

Tattoos and Nurses: It Depends on Where You Work

Every organization is different. When I was a bedside nurse at the VA, tattoos were allowed to be visible. It wasn’t a concern. Each organization and each location will have its own policies and procedures in terms of a ‘professional’ dress code. And, as an employee, you will be required to follow the said standard. I understand the direction some organizations are going in their attempts to streamline identification in terms of looks and presentation. Although I don’t always agree with said stringent policies, I know what is needed, and I comply. Your ability to obtain employment or be available for opportunities will depend on the organization you are applying within. Some places don’t mind tattoos, while others find them ‘unprofessional.’ It varies, and there is no universal standard across the nurse profession.

Regarding nursing organizations or associations, their standards vary based on location and scope of practice as well. It all depends on where you are in the world and what organization you are attempting to enter. When it comes to personal style and choices, there will never be a hard-line answer. Even piercings are something some organizations restrict. For example, you may be allowed to wear only one stud earring per ear lobe at Hospital A. However, at Hospital B, multiple piercings aren’t restricted. Luckily, unlike tattoos, piercings can be removed quickly (without difficulty) when needed.

In most cases, tattoos and piercings can be removed or covered up when needed. I, personally, wear long-sleeve shirts at work anyway (because all hospitals are freezing cold, haha). So, me ‘covering my tattoos’ isn’t something I even think about – it just happens to occur based on me wanting to be comfortable at work. I also wear a white coat to work, which is another layer that covers my arms. I’m not ashamed of my tattoos, nor do I feel like I need to cover them up. But, professionally, I understand some organizations think that they need to streamline identification, and with that concept comes not wanting individualized styles.

A long time ago, I decided to work within the ruleset I was given, and my tattoos happen to fall within those rules. All the people out there who are worried their tattoos or piercings might hinder employment know this – it all depends on the organization, location of your artistic expression (where said art is on your body), and your compliance in terms of personal expression. I understand the role I chose, and I get not everyone understands my body art. Not everyone wants to see it either, and I understand that as well. It’s nothing personal, just business. And when I’m a nurse practitioner on-site, I’m providing a service through the organization and I represent them at that time. When I’m home, I can do what I chose. But at work, I’m a puzzle piece in a much large puzzle.

Nacole Riccaboni is an acute care nurse practitioner in Florida (AGACNP-BC) and has been a critical care nurse since 2011. She received her MSN in 2018 from the University of South Alabama, and an MBA in 2020 from Capella University. Nursing is a passion of hers, and she loves her community. Her career focus is within the hospital setting, and she has extensive experience in the adult intensive care setting.

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