• Prasanthi Naidoo

Patients don't mind if doctors have tattoos or piercings: study


Tattoos and piercings have become increasingly common across demographics in recent years. Once the hallmark of sailors and bikers, nowadays, more and more people are using body art as a form of self-expression.

Are you concerned that your ink or piercings might affect how patients view your professionalism or competence? While previous studies have indicated that patients prefer professional dress for their healthcare providers, a recent 9-month research project focused on visible body art on doctors specifically.

The study, originally published online in Emergency Medicine Journal, found that patients don't mind if their doctors had visible tattoos or piercings, or both.

For this research, nearly 1000 patients in a trauma centre were surveyed about their doctors' appearance after they had finished their consultation with him or her.

The doctors who took part in the study would alternate between wearing fake body piercings or tattoos, or both, or neither, in addition to their usual hospital scrubs.

Their patients were specifically asked what they thought of their physician's competence, professionalism, caring attitude, approachability, trustworthiness and reliability, by rating these qualities from one to five.

Participating patients were told that the survey was geared to determine how the centre could better provide courteous and competent medical care, with the goal of improving the patient experience. They weren't asked specifically what their opinions were of doctors with visible tattoos and piercings.

Interestingly, patients rated all of the studied qualities highly more than 75 per cent of the time, regardless of whether or not they were seen by a doctor wearing visible body art. This remained constant irrespective of the patient's gender, education level, or ethnicity.

"Physician tattoos and facial piercings were not factors in patients' evaluations of physician competence, professionalism or approachability," the authors wrote.

The researchers noted that, "Those who enter the medical field today are more likely to have body art than medical professionals did previously. Despite this, dress codes and institutional policies at most hospitals still prohibit medical professionals from having visible body art."

Concerns that tattoos or piercings might undermine the perceived professionalism of healthcare providers or patient satisfaction with their treatment would seem to be groundless, they concluded.

As tattoos become more common in general, it stands to reason that more people entering the field of medicine will have body art. It turns out that this is becoming more accepted by patients and the general population as well.

You can read more about this research here.

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