Is it unprofessional for doctors to have tattoos or facial piercings?

This is concerning because patient satisfaction is correlated with outcomes. A satisfied patient is more likely to appear for follow-up scans, to heed instructions on managing a disease, and to take prescribed medications.

Young doctor with tattoo's
Young doctor with tattoo's Image: CMAJ

While thinking of doctors, a personality with neat and clean clothes, stethoscope in a neck. Almost never do they conjure electric blue hair, an octopus tattoo, or a row of eyebrow piercings — yet these sorts of looks have become more common and accepted in modern society. If young doctors follow suit, will it become a problem in the conservative world of medicine?

Patients care about how healthcare providers look, and that they want them to look like that picture in their head.

A recent study suggests that nose and lip piercings were related to lower appraisals of competency and dependability by the two patients and medical associates. On the other hand, female doctors with unconventional body-piercings were seen as less confident, professional, efficient and approachable than non-pierced peers.

In addition, doctors who had tattoos drew on their body, had lower reviews from patients. The ratings fell even further if providers had facial piercings.

The study was conducted by asking patients how they would feel, hypothetically, about practitioners depicted in photos. Dr. Rebecca Jeanmonod and her colleagues at St Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania wanted to know what happens in the real world, with real doctors.

Four male and three female doctors consented to wear transitory body workmanship while they approached their regular work. They wore an arm tattoo, a piercing, both, or none. For females, the piercing was an unmistakable nose stud, and for guys, it was a hooped stud. One male specialist dropped out on the grounds that he felt awkward wearing body workmanship. Another male had a genuine tattoo, so his “none” condition included keeping it secured.

After a patient interacted with one of these doctors, a nurse surveyed the patient about the physician’s competence, professionalism, caring, approachability, trustworthiness and reliability.

Each doctor’s “clean” unadorned appearance served as the control. The researchers found that in the 924 interactions studied, ratings were unaffected by body art.

Jeanmonod said that she received no negative comments on her piercings and tattoos, but quite a few positive ones. She notes that a high proportion of patients seen in the emergency department have tattoos and piercings.

Leanna Graham, director of professional practice and policy at the University Health Network in Toronto, says that although they take a hard line on fashion that affects safety or infection control, such as open-toed shoes, they try to be open-minded in how they define professionalism. The dress code in a workplace setting has to be in sync with who your patient population is.”

Erika Abner, in charge of ethics and professionalism curriculum at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, says “there is nothing specific in their curriculum about body art, or even about clothing. Students are asked to dress “appropriately” and they almost always do. Most of the students dress conservatively. I see very little body art or multiple piercings.”

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