By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – About 38% of American adults have at least one tattoo, a percentage that has been steadily increasing over the past decade.

How about doctors? Just about the same as the general population. Yet is that a problem for them, or more importantly to you, the patient?

Researchers in the Emergency Medicine Journal decided they’d take a shot at finding out if patients really care if the physician caring for them was inked.

In this study, seven physicians alternated days with visible tattoos (real or stick-on) with days where tattoos (or the stick-ons) were covered. On each day, the physicians wore blue scrubs, with or without a white coat.

Doctor with tattoo
(Courtesy Medscape)

A total of more than 900 adult patients were surveyed over a period of several months about how they perceived the doctors’ competence, professionalism, empathy, and comfort with communicating.

The findings: overall no difference between the visibly inked and non-inked physicians who cared for them.

Even more, contrary to what you might think, age or gender played no role in giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to body art.

In sum, to patients, at least in this study, tattoos are no big deal.

Most hospitals and clinics do have policies in place about tattoos, and those policies vary greatly from facility to facility. Most say they are okay, although some say they should be covered at all times. Just last year, the Mayo Clinic announced all employees, including physicians would be allowed to display tattoos on the job as long as they were not offensive.  But a few places absolutely forbid body art or piercings.  Many facilities have unwritten rules about no facial or must-be-covered sleeve tattoos.   Seems like there should be some nationwide policy about all of this, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gives employers wide latitude when it comes to dress code and appearance.

Doctor with tattoo

How about other doctors? Surprisingly (or not), about 40% of physicians surveyed in the British Medical Journal do not approve of tattoos on their colleagues… basically feeling it is the equivalent of professional appearance malpractice. Of the 60% that say it’s okay, many of them say the ink should be covered while on the job.

Doctor with tattoos

All in all, it can be a colorful controversy, but as long as they get good care, patients don’t seem to mind at all.

And neither do I.

Dr. Dave Hnida

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