Nursing rule highlights attitudes toward tattoos

Rising tattoo popularity puts professionalism in a grey area.

The Wall is a metaphorical 1982 British live-action/animated musical film based on the Pink Floyd album of the same name. (Photo by: Beth Brown)

He had only ever worn makeup for Halloween.

This changed when Dalhousie nursing student Jeremy Wheeler was asked by his instructor to cover his neck and wrist tattoos for a five-week clinical placement at a nursing home.

“I have a screaming face on my neck. I can understand covering it up in the context of a dementia unit,” he says.

He has an image from Pink Floyd’s The Wall on his neck, Batman and Deadpool symbols on his wrists, the symbol for the band Mudvayne on his right shin, and the Star Wars Rebel Alliance and Empire logos on his hips.

Wheeler is not concerned about his tattoos affecting future employment.

“They’re pretty much crying for male nurses,” he says.

Dalhousie’s dress and uniform policy, which it drafted in conjunction with the IWK and Capital District Health, states, “tattoos that depict violence, pornography, gang or racial messages must be covered.”

Far from falling under these categories, Wheeler doesn’t believe his tattoos are inappropriate. If anything he says they’re “a great conversation starter.”

Wheeler’s situation highlights the difference between the perceptions of body art held by young adults entering the health-care industry and the older people they are caring for.

Tattoo trust

The College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia’s position statement on professionalism quotes an Ipsos survey which found the public ranks nursing as one of the most trustworthy professions.

The regulatory also states, “Opinion polls reinforce the belief that nurses are generally prized for their virtues, not their knowledge.”

Wheeler says he understands that many people — particularly those in nursing homes — do not equate tattoos with virtue.

“Without sounding ageist, most people from their time with tattoos would be sailors and scoundrels,” he says.

And so, to be professional and virtuous, and to respect his instructor’s wishes, Wheeler covered up his psychedelic rock, DC and Marvel tattoos.

“I didn’t want to make a fuss. It was just five weeks.”

Wheeler has his wrists tattooed with symbols from Marvel and DC characters. (Photo by: Beth Brown)

There were people on staff at St. Vincent’s Nursing Home with visible tattoos.

He used Kat Von D tattoo concealer from Sephora, priced at $60 to cover his body art.

“I didn’t have the patience to match up my skin tone. It just looked like a weird blotch on the side of my neck.”

He kept his wrists covered by wearing a long-sleeved black t-shirt under his scrubs.

“It was very hot.”

Individuality vs. professionalism

Shauna Houk, assistant director of undergraduate studies for Dalhousie’s school of nursing says, “From our perspective we don’t care if a student is covered in tattoos from top to bottom.”

The university, she says, celebrates diversity and individuality.

However, for student placements, Houk says, “we’ve aligned with our stakeholders in terms of the dress policies that they want in their agencies.”

She says if a tattoo is offensive to a patient or family it would be challenging for a nurse to develop a therapeutic relationship. Yet, she once worked with a nurse who had tattoos all over his neck and arms, and in 27 years in nursing she says tattoos have been “a non-issue.”

Dal has no specialized policy for work placement attire in other sensitive fields such as childcare or mental health, where a tattoo could be frightening. That’s left to the discretion of the clinical instructor and the health agencies where students are placed.

Campus comparisons

Compared to other universities in the region, Dalhousie’s tattoo policy is the most specific.

The University of Prince Edward Island’s school of nursing states, “Tattoos must be covered at all times,” while the University of New Brunswick states “Tattoos are to be covered, if possible.”

St. Francis Xavier’s nursing program says “body adornment/tattoos that may be considered disrespectful to clients and the community must be covered.”

Employment ink

According to another Ipsos poll from 2012, two in 10 Canadians have at least one tattoo on their body.

Still, Matt Owen of Utility Tattoo on Quinpool Road says tattoo stigma will continue to exist until the younger generation are the “grownups.”

Though, he says, “(The stigma) has definitely changed. People don’t freak out when they see hand tattoos or neck tattoos. Face tattoos, yes, you might be pushing your luck.”

The tattoo artist of eight years is careful when dealing with tattoo virgins.

“I’m not going to put a hand tattoo on somebody who doesn’t have their arms tattooed yet,” says Owen. “I have an ethical view on that.”

He says that because stigma does exist,  “you’ve got to be sure you’re going to be able to get a job for the rest of your life.”

“I don’t want to be that person who facilitates your bad decision just so I can make a hundred bucks.”

Jeremy Wheeler says he wants to find a job where his tattoos are accepted.

“I would find a place that would not require me to cover them up.”





27 thoughts on “Nursing rule highlights attitudes toward tattoos

  1. I am more concerned about the long sleeves in the clinical setting. This is more of a risk to the client from an infection control perspective. Building the nurse-client relationship goes far beyond the client judging the individual based on body art.

  2. These young professionals will be our future, why does it matter what they choose to put on there bodies. Discrimination is all around us, skin color,hair color, piercings, maybe they should get to know the individual we are all different in our own ways, stop judging people.

  3. I actually worked with Jeremy in a different setting, and was even his Supervisor at one point. His Tatoo’s did not define him,they were art for him. He’s a great person and will make a great nurse. Having said that, I have worked in the health care industry, all our client want is some one to treat them with respect and compasion. Tatoo’s are great ice breakers so long as they are not offensice.

  4. Maybe he should have thought about that before getting massive tattoos in a visible area. Think about the long term effects. Then get upset when someone tells you to keep them covered? Its your decision what and where to get a tattoo. Not your employers fault you make bad choices.

    1. I don’t think this illustrates him getting upset when asked to cover them…his quotes sounded like he was pretty understanding.

    2. How is it a bad choice? I’m a highschool teacher and I have a tattoo on my back which students never see, but I have one on my foot and wrist which is often visible to students. They aren’t offensive. And the school board has no problems with tattoos. The “bad choice” was made by the person who told him to cover up. A nurse (and everyone) should be valued by who they are, not by what they wear on their skin or body.

  5. This hooligan is a menace! No respect for himself or others! I personally WOULD NOT want my life in some punks care

    1. To Gary and Alexander, we live in a free country the last time I checked. However I personally have some qualms about the reality of that. None the less this is his body, his art and most certainly does not define him as a whole person. You call him a hooligan but if his tattoos were covered and you had no knowledge of them would you feel the same? I doubt that. I know Jeremy personally, he’s even an old co-worker of mine and I can say with confidence that he is a wonderful and amazing individual. He will make a fantastic nurse and if I know him like I think I do he will not let this foolishness overcome him.

    2. Wow really? Really? You wouldn’t want to receive care from a medical professional with 4 years education? You do realize that you receive the same care either way? I bet you don’t think twice about shoveling all that fast food in your face.. which is made by the same “hooligans”; they don’t even get 2 weeks of training; or the food handlers course! Your comment isn’t even ignorant; it’s completely retarded. Ha! Anyway have fun going through life in the current momentum you’ve found yourself in. I believe it’s working! (for the rest of us)

    3. #1 - Respect is earned. I’m not sure why he would need to have respect for you. It’s a Pink Floyd tattoo, not a swastika.

      #2 - One day, you’re going to need some form of health care. I hope the person who has the misfortune of treating you isn’t as judgemental. You have a very small mind. Open it up. It’s just a tattoo.

    4. I’m not a friend of Jeremy’s but I have no idea why you call him a hooligan. Clearly your from a different time era. Maybe you should get with the times and understand that tattoos and piercings are now a part of everyday culture. If you have a problem with this young man havingt tattoos maybe you should find a nurse who doesn’t. Which could be hard because 85% of the population has at least one or more tattoos. Either that or go back in time to when it wasn’t socially accepted, I’m thinking 30 years or more…

  6. this “hooligan” you speak of is actually a better person then you are! He doesn’t judge others based on appearance. He is an amazing person, brother, son, uncle, etc and will make an amazing nurse because he actually cares about others. You sir Mr Frost are a prejudice, inconsiderate, uneducated prick!

  7. I did read the comments but it doesn’t make me angry. Sad is more like it. Hard to believe there are still Neanderthals amongst us that believe a book in no more than it’s cover. Luckily, decent people like Jeremy will still take care of those people when they need it.

  8. Wow. Totally blown away by the “hooligan/menace” comment because I went to school with this fellow and remember him as anything but a punk. He was a great soccer player like his big sister and pretty sure he played hockey too. He was a little guy back then but fun & entertaining. I guess I’m not surprised he chose this career path, I’d say it totally suits him … may be mistaken but following in his mothers footsteps??? Anyway, this was an eye-opener for me … stop dismissing good folks because of their tattoos!!!
    “Ink to paper is thoughtful ink to flesh, hard-core.
    If Shakespeare were a tattooist we’d appreciate body art more.” - source unknown

  9. I also went to school with Jeremy, and he is anything but a hooligan lol I am working in healthcare now, and I have tattoos on my wrists in the same spot, they are a topic of conversation and I have never encountered any judgement like this. Stay strong Jeremy! The real world is a lot different than school, I think you’ll make a great nurse!

  10. I am a CCA and I have a lot more then 5 tattoos and trust me it makes for a great conversation. I can’t believe people are still judging by them. I haven’t have a single problem with mine in my 9 year career. You will do great jeremy .

  11. Laws against tattoos yet I nursing home in Quebec burns to the ground killing about 30 residents , no manditory sprinklers???? What the hell I’ve been a nurse for almost 6 years in a nursing home with dementia patients and I have several tattoos it’s never been an issue, my employer loves them people need to figure out what’s really important. The way we look or the way we care.

  12. Jermery is not a hooligan or a menace.He does have a passion for music and comics hence the tattoo.He will be a great nurse and anyone in his care will be lucky to have him.

  13. I too worked with Jeremy in the past and Jeremy is one of the good guys. He is very caring and he did not get his neck tattoo to frighten or disrespect anyone, he got it to express himself.
    Jeremy is a great musician a caring person and he will make an awesome nurse!
    You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or you might miss the story.

  14. Don’t fret Jeremey, I have been a nurse for 10 years and a year ago, I began the process of having a full sleeve tattooed on my left arm. I proudly wear my ink every shift I work. It has been an overall positive experience for me. I have had many physicians admire my ink and express their wishes to do the same. Their hesitation in having visable ink surprisingly had nothing to do with their profession but was a concern of spouses approval lol. I have never had a patient or family member judge my abilities in providing quality care, at least none that were expressed to me. Tattoos are becoming very mainstream and are no longer just bikers, sailors and criminals. It is harder to find a person without ink these days. Many of our patients and family members have tattoos and showing your ink proudly often makes them see that you are human just like them. Being ill and having your life in someone elses hands can be very intimidating, when the patient or family can see your courageous display of your own personality without fear of judgement, that can actually help them see you as a bold, confident nurse who will be their advocate when needed. They can relate to you as an individual who will not unfairly judge them for how they look. If they are a lover of the art of ink, this is an easy way to relate to them on a personal level, the first step in developing trust and rapport with them. Times are changing and so are attitudes regarding tattoos. There will be those that have their outdated attitudes, but they are the minority. And, would they really have the courage to express their prejudice of the ‘color of ones skin’?

  15. You people with such closed-minded comments are ridiculous. If you ever become critically/chronically ill remember your comments when you have a nurse with a tattoo taking care if you - chances are you will as a lot of us have visible tattoos. So as we are saving your life or helping you through your dark days maybe you will learn to show us “punks” a little respect.

    The reality of it is, professionals have tattoos these days. Get with the times and get over it.

  16. I think ur art work is amazing. Your art work isn’t the issue.

    It takes a lot of courage to be a nurse. It is a very selfless job.

    As a nurse your main focus every shift is the patient and their families. You hardly have time for yourself. There has been many shift I have worked in the OR where until the incision was closed I wouldn’t realize that I have been scrubbed for 6 hours and haven’t eaten or peed once during this time frame. All because I would never let another nurse scrub me out for continuity of care for that patient.

    I would love to then have a family member or pt the K that I didn’t care because I have tattoos.

    As a nurse you spend.your holidays with your coworkers, sick patients and their families- hardly ever your own. You work crazy shifts all around the clock….When there’s a snow storm and everything else is closed down..guess what, I still have to find a way to get to work cause I know I’m needed.

    If tattoos are your formof expression, what makes you feel good, what keeps your smiling at the end of a 12 hour shift; then go for it. You will need an outlet.

  17. Ok… I do not know this person with his tattoos just to start my comment. For those of you personally attacking this young mans character, I want to congratulate you all on being able to actually write a post while being such stupid people. Now for my opinion…it doesn’t matter to me what a persons views on tattoos are, whether it is the person choosing to permanently mark there bodies and put themselves in a position to be judged, their choice. Or the person disagreeing with the whole idea of them. However, there have been comments on what a great conversation starter they are and that’s accepted, they like the attention they bring. On the other hand when the bad comments and judgements come from others with conflicting ideas then people should back off, lighten up, don’t judge… If the tattoo was for the individual for personal expression be prepared to get the expressions from both sides. If a caregiver has his entire body covered with tattoos hidden under his cloths it’s nobody’s business, but when you have them exposed for the world to see don’t be surprised when you get the attention negative or otherwise. I myself have two adult children who both have tattoos. As a parent I did not want either of my Children getting them in places where they would be seen in work clothes for respect for their employers, clients, or patients in this case. Tattoos don’t mean what they have in decades past but what the new generation of people need to understand is the people they are serving have not been brought up to believe they are just a picture on everyday folks. Out of respect for the fear that they can bring in the older generation they should be covered. Again just my opinion. If the 77 year old lady in a hospital bed sees a man that she lived her life thinking was a gang member, or a biker, or a bad man sees a screaming man on a guys neck coming towards her in the middle of the night answering a call bell scaring the life out of her, isn’t fair. Same man and the same lady sitting in a coffee shop the tattoos are more than acceptable, he should be entitled to express himself any way he sees fit, but not at work. The same way he has the right for self expression he also had to know that with choices come consequences. You have the right but not everyone has to agree. If you accept a job with a company that has a dress code for example, don’t expect to wear whatever you want. If you don’t agree or want to conform, don’t take that job. I don’t care what the guy has tattooed or where they are. I just don’t think he should put it in patients faces unless he’s pulling up a sleeve to show it if the conversation comes up. I am sure the guy will succeed as a nurse and I personally wouldn’t judge his character if he was coming near me with a needle, I would just hope he knows what he’s doing with it! Oh and for all you tattooed people out there with their noses out of joint from my opinion, I have one to.

  18. I hope people, including employers, patients, and colleagues, are smart enough to know that visible tattoos are not an indicator of one’s intelligence level, professionalism, or capability in their chosen profession. Body art is prevalent in our society. Jeremy’s ability to care for his patients in a professional, compassionate, competent way is what is important here. Anyone who has a problem with visible tattoos is engaging in discrimination. As a nurse, (with no tattoos) I do not believe student nurses should be made to cover their body art. This conservative attitude feeds discriminatory attitudes. Having a tattoo is not offensive, and getting one does not make you a rebel. Get with the times.

  19. I went to school with jeremy. He’s had these tattoos for several years now, and I don’t care what he or anyone says, at some point in the last 5 years he has at least once looked in the mirror and said; why did I get that on my neck? I have tattoos and I’m not passing judgement, nor should anyone else, but come on.. Self expression and all that jazz I get it, but, come on.. He was in a band when he got it, it probably seemed like a good Idea at the time, but is he proud of it? In my opinion (which I’m entitled to) if he was proud of his tattoos (which are not offensive) he’d cover them up for no one. Just my 2 cents.

Comments are closed.