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Tattoos: Out of Sight - Out of Mind?

Posted By Brandi Deats, Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013


Let’s talk about something that I know, and personally love: ink. We’re talking tattoos. They’re not just for scumbags and sailors anymore. That’s right folks, wandering in a tattoo parlor you may encounter a professional or even a *gasp* suburban housewife! You read it right, the proverbial Mom tattoo has now transformed into mom’s getting tattooed. In many areas, tattoos are migrating from counterculture to popular culture; but are we moving forward in our acceptance? That’s what I’d like to examine here.

I have tattoos. I don’t keep it a secret but at the same time I don’t put them on display while I’m at work. There is not a set-in-stone policy regarding tattoos where I work but we’re essentially asked to be smart about it- to maintain the level of "professionalism” that my employers expect.   I’m happy to work in a relatively accepting environment but I know that others are not so lucky. I was discussing this topic with an acquaintance from our industry and they informed me that at a previous job, they had a very strict tattoo policy where all visible tattoos had to be covered, at all times. That quick conversation prompted me to run a quick Google search for "appearance policy tattoo healthcare” and have come across many healthcare organizations that have policies that restrict tattoos from being visible. The powers that be are the ones who dictate what is acceptable for our viewing pleasure – and do not have to take anyone’s feelings into consideration. Some people argue that it is a first amendment right issue but truth be told, companies can limit personal expression on the job as long as they don’t impinge on civil liberties. Translation: Appearance policies are allowed as long as they don’t discriminate or hinder a person’s race, color, religion, age, national origin, or gender. Most companies are interested in protecting the "professional image” of their organization; which is well within their right.

Laser tattoo removal rose 32% from 2011 to 2012. "Employment reasons” are the leading factor and have risen a reported 25% from last year, according to a 2012 study done by The Patient’s Guide1. "There’s been a significant increase in the number of patients who desire tattoo removal for career advancement or for employment reasons,” says Dr. Eric Bernstein, laser expert and Associate Clinical Professor at University of Pennsylvania.  "I think this is as wrong as any other kind of discrimination, but patients tell me that their tattoos are affecting their professional lives.  Many feel that their body could be holding them back and this has resulted in more folks seeking tattoo removal.”

Harris Interactive2 reports that 21% of adults in the US have a tattoo, a statistic that has risen 7% since 2008. In October 2012, National Geographic released an article on the transition of tattoo moving from taboo to mainstream 3, the expansion of the industry and the fact that it’s not just "deviants” getting ink anymore. For something that is becoming so mainstream, it is interesting how adherent the stigma against tattoos continues to be – especially in the work environment. Furthermore I’ve noticed that there seems to be a duality in expectations, appearance-wise, between the photographers and other employees. It seems that those in entry level positions have a bit more leeway when it comes to visible tattoos, whereas the more specialized positions are generally asked to cover up. It’s not just being asked to not have our visible, it’s the flack we catch when they are that really drives the double standard home. I understand covering something up for your employer that might be offensive, but tattoos in their own right shouldn’t be considered offensive. In our industry, we work with many patients from the "scumbag and sailors” generation but I know that my tattoos don’t make me any less or more capable of doing my job, and simply put, I’m not going to stop getting them. I’m just going to have to invest in some longer sleeves until things change.


That’s my opinion. I’m interested in yours. Please comment with a response to the questions below or feel free to add any other insight you may have.

What are you opinions on visible ink? If you have tattoos, have you run into any problems with employers because of them? What’s your knee-jerk reaction when you’re being attended to by someone with visible ink? Do you think differently about their ability to perform their job?



Brandi Deats, B.S., CRA, OCT-C,  has been working for the University of Rochester, Flaum Eye Institute in Rochester, New York for just over 2 years. A fledgeling adult and relatively newly married she enjoys cooking, eating, traveling, and the endless struggle of trying to get her husband to try something other than Labatt Blue.







1. The Patient’s Guide http://

2. Harris Interactive Polls: One in Five U.S. Adults Now Has a Tattoo

3. Tattoos—From Taboo to Mainstream http://

Tags:  blog  education  funny  Ice Breakers  Interactive  Meaningful Use  New Life  PDC  Professionalism  Study  Tattoos  Tips 

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Permalink | Comments (7)

Comments on this post...

Michael R. Turano, Jr. CRA OCT-C says...
Posted Friday, February 1, 2013
Very cool thanks for the interesting post!
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Jaclyn Pisano says...
Posted Friday, February 1, 2013
Thought of you when I went to see this exhibit - pretty amazing and crazy hand-tapping tattooing.
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Kirsten G. Locke CRA. OCT-C. RN. FOPS says...
Posted Friday, February 1, 2013
I think historical attitudes are having a hard time to let go, especially within the generation that controls the upper management. Also, in ophthalmic medical care locations, the majority of patient are 60 or older and some would reject someone with a tattoo; wrongly so but still.
When we hired a new Front Desk person some time ago and the summer came about, she suddenly showed up at work with a large bandage in a location that was now visible in a summer blouse. We all asked if she had gotten hurt but it turned out it was hiding a flower tattoo. At least our management is up to date and she is allowed to have it visible.
Thank you for sharing your experience with your inc. It looks great on you.
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Houston P. Sharpe III COA OCT-C says...
Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I agree with Kirsten G. that it is not correct to be rejected because of ink, but due to the age of most of our Pts they are mostly old school. I don't have any ink myself, but I love to see others!

Great post Brandi Deats!
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Darrin A. Landry CRA OCT-C says...
Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I personally love tattoos. My entire back and upper arm is covered in ink- places that don't show even if I wear a short sleeve shirt. I attend the Forged in Ink convention as often as I can, and it's pretty remarkable how many professionals are getting inked now. One of my friends has his entire upper body (up to the neck) in ink, and teaches first grade. First impressions are hard to get by, and although I would like to think we've progressed beyond that, it can cause problems from both employers, employees and patients. I keep my tattoos out of sight, as I don't have them to make a statement, I have them for personal history and remembrance. I am always interested in seeing other people's ink, and given the creative minds in the OPS, I'm sure there are some beautiful ones!
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Martin L. Rothenberg says...
Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Most medical establishments are very conservative, and very concerned about appearances. Half the battle in treating patients is giving them an aura of confidence and professionalism. Does a lab coat or a tie make a difference in how you actually treat a patient? Of course not, yet most institutions require them. (I hate wearing a tie; it comes off the minute I'm out the door). So unfortunately, the same concept goes for tattoos and piercings. As society changes, these rules will change, too.

In addition, bureaucracies have a tendency to make rules that relieve the bureaucrats from making judgement calls (is this tattoo small enough or tasteful enough, etc.).

I don't have any tattoos because 1)I am too old and would look like I am trying too hard, and 2)I am sure I would get sick of any given tat after a year or so (the same goes with the photos on the walls in my house).

I realize that I'm old, but then again, I'm not sure I want to be treated by a Doctor with a bone through his nose and Satanic tattoos.

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Brian Busse says...
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I have just one tattoo in memory of my best friend who passed away many years ago. I have found it to become a very good conversation piece. I wear scrubs for work and no more than the last half inch of the tattoo shows from the bottom of my right sleeve, so as the patient and I are waiting for our late images a very good percentage of patients will ask me why I have the tattoo, what it stands for and will I get another one. In all a great way to pass time.
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