nursing tattoosTattoos are growing in popularity and social acceptance. In all walks of life people—nurses included—are using their bodies as canvases for ink. If you are precepting a nurse in their twenties, it is likely that they have one or more tattoos.

With a wide gap of generations in the workplace, we must be willing to objectively discuss our thoughts on nursing and tattoos. And first, we should understand why people are getting them.

Basic Reasons For and Against Tattoos

  • Documenting a “non-permanent" relationship or favorite vice (favorite beer)
  • Because “all my friends are getting them”
  • Just because you like the design

Even according to tattoo artists, these reasons are not based on common sense.

Considerations for Healthcare Professionals

Beyond the basic reasons to get or not get a tattoo, there are several other points to consider. The anthropology argument conveys the idea that humans have always decorated themselves for attention. According to Kuwahara (2005), reasons might include:

  • Showing status
  • Declaring power
  • Expressing insecurity
  • Simply for decoration

The bottom line is the need to be noticed. Prior to permanently broadcasting these things on your body, you might first do some soul searching. For example, you definitely won't be happy with a tattoo you got just to annoy your parents.

In nursing, the arguments about tattoos become broader. Many healthcare organizations have appearance policies that restrict tattoos from being visible or “excessive." Leadership defines “excessive” and they may not be interested in why someone chose to tattoo themselves.  They will be interested in protecting the professional image of their organization, which is well within their right.

As nurses, we must be aware that many of our patients are of a generation that sees tattooing as taboo and an uneducated practice. This may make them initially question the nurse’s competence and judgment.

Finally, there is the argument that the professional image of nursing is at stake. Although healthcare is changing and becoming more open to this societal trend, a heavily tattooed individual will have difficulty being considered for the CNO position in most organizations. The definition of “professional image” does not appear to be changing anytime soon.

Here are three things to keep in mind if you are in a healthcare field:

  1. If you are working with young nurses who have tattoos, be supportive and realize there are many reasons for getting tattoos.

  2. If you choose to get a tattoo, consider placement and size carefully. That way, your art does not violate an appearance standard where you work or is unpractical to cover if you are on duty. Consider the professional image you are portraying to the public and your current or future employers.

  3. Tattoos are forever. If you do get one, make sure it is not one you will regret.

Ten years from now, our resumes will have improved and become more marketable. Whatever our individual thoughts on tattoos and nursing, we all can agree that we want our appearance to keep up with our success.


Kuwahara, M. (2005). Tattoo: An anthropology. Berg Publishers.

What are your thoughts on nurses getting tattoos?