Nurses, Tattoos, & Piercings: Unprofessional or Self-Expression?

The classic nursing school look.

Acceptable ‘nursing student’ look. She might be violating with those bangs, though!

I grew up in a small city in Ohio, population 8,000. When I was sixteen, I started working in a local nursing home as a nurse’s aide. One of my elderly female patients looked at my ear piercings and asked, “Why do you have all that metal in your ear? Don’t you know you are prettier without it?” I passed the comment off as an ‘old person’ thing to say and continued on with my job duties.

Two years later, I was in nursing clinicals. The dress code prohibited piercings and tattoos, except for a single exception: a plain stud set in the earlobes. I had to to remove all my metal. Other students were covering up their tattoos with bandages, long sleeved shirts, and pretty much anything they could find to do the job. I felt like a cookie cutter nurse.

Graduation came and went, and I found myself in the real world of nursing. Everything was different. I was independent and no longer crying over exams and bad clinical days. I was officially Megan, registered nurse! It was time for some self expression. For my first tattoo, I chose a delicate bird for my left wrist, so that when I lifted my arm in the air, the bird was in flight. This was my symbol of freedom from the past and a pleasant welcoming invitation for new things to come.

A year later, I found my niche in correctional nursing. Several of the other nurses had full sleeve tattoos and flaunted them freely. I knew this career choice would allow for more self expression, unlike the small town mentality where I grew up. My job was only contract, so I made the decision to move to Columbus, Ohio, in search of a permanent psychiatric nursing position in the Ohio prison system. As a parting gift to myself, I chose a tattoo for my right forearm, “Perfectly Flawed,”  -no explanation needed. (See it in the picture above!)


Coming to Columbus, Ohio, was the game changer. While at a well known hospital, I noticed the receptionist had a Monroe piercing above her lip. I asked her how she smuggled that past the administrators.  She smiled and explained it was the hospital’s policy to indulge in diversity.  My mouth dropped, thinking back to my white nursing school scrubs and the single set of stud earrings I was permitted to wear. Culture was officially in!

So, here we are, present day. I am an employed, tattooed, and pierced nurse. I am respected and accepted by my patients, my employees, and my employers.  It feels great to know that when I leave my home for a day at work, this self-expression I wear will have no bearing on the care my patients will receive from me.

I want to know your thoughts, my fellow nurses.  Do you find tattoos and piercings unprofessional?  Do they make a nurse less credible? Or, are you a tattooed nurse, too?  What do your tattoos mean to you? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your personal or professional appearance?

Let me hear your stories. Post your #tattooednurse and #tattooed&employed pics below!