Can Nurses Have Tattoos? All You Need to Know About Nurses and Tattoos

nurse tattoo arm

Your Grandma has one, your next-door neighbor just added his third, and you are unsure whether having one will affect your career opportunities as a nurse. We are talking about tattoos. Can nurses have tattoos? And if they can’t, what should you do with your beautiful body art?

Even if approximately  3 in 10 Americans have tattoos and most workplaces have embraced the changes, healthcare facilities are taking slower.  And as a nurse, you want to achieve the goal of working in your dream facility and have the freedom to show your art. Here’s everything you need to know about nurses and tattoos.

Can Nurses Have Tattoos? 

The short answer to ‘can nurses have tattoos?’ is yes… at least for most medical facilities. I know you have heard it quite a few times, but it depends on the hospital or facility you work with.

For some facilities, visible tattoos are okay for nurses as long as they don’t contain offensive material. In others, visible tattoos are frowned upon. But it seems, the most common issue is about underlying perceptions and attitudes towards tattoos in patients and coworkers.

Which Medical Facilities Have No Issue With Tattoos?

The Veteran Affairs Department (VA) allows nurses to have visible tattoos as long as it’s not practical to cover them. If tattoos fall under the forbidden 3, which includes sexually explicit, obscene, and offensive tattoos, nurses will have to cover them during their work hours.

Some hospital networks have realized it’s about a nurse’s competency and not their skin art. Hence, 2018 saw a couple of hospital networks relaxing their tattoo rules. Among them was Reid Health, a hospital network with more than 40 locations. In their new policies, medical staff could have visible tattoos as long as they are not offensive.

The Indiana University Health System, a medical unit with 16 hospitals, also revised their 50-page dress code guidelines to a mere 5 pages. Interestingly, among the revisions made, were the issue of tattoos. In the new guidelines, nurses can have visible tattoos as long as they dont fall under the forbidden 3’s.

Mayo clinic joined the crew too. They changed their policies stating that medical staff can have visible tattoos as long as they don’t fall into the forbidden category. However, Mayo’s policy also states that they reserve the right to judge a tattoo’s appearance. This is to decide whether it’s appropriate or not.

I couldn’t find much about HCA Healthcare’s dress code, but this thread seems to suggest that the network allows nurses to have visible tattoos.

Medical Facilities with Strict tattoo Policies

On the other end, Laredo Medical Center, a federally funded medical facility, forbids practitioners from showing their tattoos. Likewise, the Cleveland clinic network states in their policy, “Tattoos must be covered during working hours. Body piercing jewelry may not be visible except in the ear lobes. No more than two pairs of simple earrings may be worn per ear.”

But, it looks like much of the questions surrounding whether nurses can have tattoos is left for individual facilities to decide. The National Nursing Student Association also doesn’t have a clear stand on the matter.

Now that you know the answer on nurses and tattoos, what should you consider before getting one? Or before you decide to make your tattoos visible during work hours?

What To Consider Before Getting A Tattoo As A Nurse

Your Dream Workplace Policies

As we’ve already mentioned, whether nurses can or cannot have tattoos will largely depend on the facility. Some are more welcoming, while others frown at the thought. What matters is to scout the dress codes of different facilities or health networks to see if they allow visible tattoos.

If they don’t, then you have to come up with a plan to cover them. You can easily do this through sleeves or some makeup, but make sure to keep your local weather in mind (long-sleeved turtlenecks are awful during summer). Either way, the best decision is not to have visible tattoos with the forbidden three.

The Location of Your Tattoo

No one knows the future, and you may find yourself placed in a center that doesn’t allow tattoos. In this case, having a small, easy-to-cover tattoo will give you a better chance of landing a job. Some places to avoid tattoos as a nurse include:

  • Scalp
  • Face
  • Above the collar(neck)
  • And a full sleeve since it’s harder to cover

When you get your tattoo, think about how the tattoo location will affect your career advancement.

Pros of Having Tattoos As a Nurse

It’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to nurses and tattoos. Aside from a way to express yourself(which is the main benefit), tattoos also have other benefits in nursing.

The Perfect Ice Breaker With Patients

“My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” 

For most nurses, each tattoo has a story of its own. Patients will be curious about the name tattooed over your wrist, or the little dove on your bicep, presenting an opportunity to start a conversation. We all know how easy administering care becomes when we start with a good conversation.

Builds Connection With Patients 

A 90-year-old veteran found friendship with a 50 something old nurse reminiscing their time in the marine. All thanks to a simple tattoo. Aside from being conversation starters, tattoos can help build connections between a patient and nurse. If you ask me, this is a tremendous step towards providing optimal care to a patient because relationships build trust. And trust makes your job easier and more impactful.

Cons of Having Tattoos as a Nurse

There’s Still a Lot of Stigma Surrounding Tattoos

A study published in Psychology Today found that people with tattoos will often be perceived negatively despite the massive popularity of tattoos. In fact, women with tattoos will often be judged more harshly than men. They may be thought heavy drinkers, less intelligent, and less caring, even though we know it’s a misconception. This may prove difficult, especially if you will be caring for seniors. Or people who have a problem with nurses showing their tattoos.

If it comes to this, then it will be better to cover the tattoos and give the patient the best quality care they can receive.

Tattoos May Affect Your Career Development

What’s worse, some facilities can deny promotion to a qualified nurse because of tattoos. This means that you might not get to THAT dream job if they have strict dress codes.  It may not be a problem if tattoos are covered, but it’s always best to keep this in mind.

Tattoos May Affect Some Of Your Patients or Coworkers

And not in a good way… That’s the thing with tattoos. Not everyone will understand what they mean or why they matter to you. While that is expected and okay, it might still present a problem in your workday.

This is why you should consider the placement of your tattoo if you know that it might come off as offensive to some. If you already made the plunge and got it anyway, it may be best to cover it up when you can. It’s inconvenient, but it makes everyone’s day easier, especially yours.

According to Dr. Showalter of Pacific North University, the appropriateness of a tattoo depends on the population group of your patients. Young adults and teenage patients are more likely to be open about tattoos compared to the senior population. So, make sure to consider the people you serve before deciding on tattoos.

On The Flip Side, the Majority of The People Don’t Notice Or Mind Tattoos on Nurses

A study published in the Emergency Medical Journal surveyed patients’ attitudes towards medical staff with tattoos versus those without. The results showed that having visible art does not significantly change the perception of patients towards a physician. Meaning, most patients care more about the medical care they receive rather than a nurse’s tattoos.

Can You Be Denied a Nursing Job If You Have Tattoos?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that employers can set their own dress codes and standards. However, these codes and standards should not discriminate based on race, religion, or disability grounds.

In simple terms, it’s legal for employers to have a no tattoo policy. And, an employer can deny you employment if your tattoos seem to violate their policy.

If and when you decide to start climbing the corporate ladder, tattoos may hinder that dream. Why? Some or most medical facilities have stricter standards for people in management, and visible tattoos may be a no-go zone.

What to Do If Your Medical Workplace Has a No Tattoo Policy

Purchase Sleeves

If your facility has a no-visible tattoos policy, then there’s nothing much left but to cover them. You can get a specific tattoo cover sleeve or wear a long-sleeved shirt to work. If it’s a small tattoo, say on the wrist, you can use a watch or bracelet to hide it.

Use Makeup Where Possible

For smaller tattoos on the wrist or arms, you can use makeup products such as foundation and concealers to cover them up. Now, there are even specific makeup kits for tattoo coverup. They come as a complete kit, making it easy to hide tattoos in visible areas.

Consider Removal

What if your visible tattoos are hindering your career progress as a nurse? Well, you can consider complete removal. It may be hard to make that call, but some things are worth the sacrifice. And if you can’t bring yourself to do it, consider the option below.

Find a New Workplace

If your tattoos hold deep personal memories, as most do, then consider finding a new workplace with lax tattoo policies. The shift may be hectic at first, but it’s better to work in a facility where you bring your whole self to work.

Nurse Tattoo Ideas

If you’ve made up your mind on tattoos, here are some tattoo ideas for nurses to try out.

Rose of No Man’s Land

nurse arm tattoo

This tattoo is a long-standing traditional design that’s believed to have been there since the early 1900s. It originated from a song about the nurses who cared for wounded soldiers in the no man’s land trenches of WW1. It’s elaborate and a pretty popular design with a constant nurse’s cup, cross, and roses as its signature.

Rose of no man’s land tattoo pays tribute to the relentless dedication of nurses to caring for the wounded. The design features a lady’s head wearing a nurse’s cap with a cross and roses surrounding the lady.

Heart Beat and an RN symbol

nurse wrist tattoo

A heartbeat and RN symbol tattoo is simple but easy to make eye-catching with different color shades. This tattoo pays tribute to your profession as a nurse in a rather minimal way. The design features a stethoscope, a nurse’s cap with the symbols RN, and the heartbeat linking them all. It can also signify that at the heart of nursing is the goal to support life and ensure patients thrive.

Stethoscope to infinity

nurse foot tattoo

This tattoo is perfect for curved visible areas like over your foot or on your sleeve area. The stethoscope infinity tattoo shows commitment to extended service and providing quality care always. A variation of this ink design would be the heart stethoscope, especially in a red shade.

The heart stethoscope will look great on the shoulder blade, bicep, or across the foot. Likewise,  you can add more excitement to the stethoscope to infinity by adding a heart, and a heartbeat, like this.

Nurse Since Year Something

arm tattoo nurse

For a subtle, cool tattoo that drives the point home, this is it. You can have the ‘nurse since year something’ tattoo in black or a mix-match of colors to add more flavor. What I love about this design is its simplicity. It only features the words ‘nurse since’ in cursive and a particular year. The year on the nurse since tattoo can be the year you completed nursing school or started working.

Just Breath

This tattoo is a beautiful reminder to yourself to keep calm on all the hectic days you feel like quitting. It can also signify a reminder to your patients to take it easy as you help them recuperate. You can be sure you won’t go wrong with a just breath tattoo for whatever reason you choose the design. It features a heartbeat with the words just breath, and a nurse’s cap caps it all (no pun intended).

DNA Strand and RN Symbol

shoulder tattoo

The design is minimalist but pretty cool and perfect for the collarbone area. It features a DNA strand with the words RN in between. It can symbolize that nursing is in your DNA and what you meant to do all along. You can have it in other colors, but black seems to work better.

Everyday Nursing Tools

Stethoscopes, scalpels, shears, and tweezers are all everyday tools you might use as a nurse. What if you translated them to a tattoo as a tribute to your profession? Well, it’s possible with this back of the leg everyday nursing tools tattoo. You can even add an RN symbol or a heartbeat to wrap all the tools together.

A Floral Breathing System

Cute and realistic, this tattoo design is perfect for your forearm. On the right side of this tattoo design is a realistic-looking lung. On the left, the lung is depicted as some black and white flowers. The floral breathing system design is simple without being overbearing or needing too much explanation.

The Human Heart

This design is detailed and can signify the realness and rawness of your work as a nurse. It can also mean the dedication and heart or passion you put into your nursing profession every day. You can splash in the words nurse in cursive or a simple RN symbol. A black design looks great, but red or purple could also work.

Nurse With the Light

This tattoo design features a rather cute miniature nurse with a nurse’s cap. The nurse is also carrying a syringe, but let’s substitute this for a torch illuminating the surroundings. Let’s start with a fact—nurses are a breath of fresh air in every hospital.

Without them, hospitals wouldn’t function. This design beautifully encapsulates the role of nurses. The tattoo signifies how much nurses give hope to their patients and help them walk through the pain into health. And whenever you feel like quitting, this tattoo reminds you that you are a torch bearer… someone still needs you, nurse.


Bottom line— can nurses have tattoos? The resounding answer is yes. Nurses can have tattoos. However, some medical facilities may require you to cover tattoos when interacting with patients. Generally, most hospitals don’t allow visible tattoos when the tats are obscene, derogatory, or offensive.

Getting a tattoo will solely come down to where you want to work, their tattoo policies, and what’s most important to you. Sometimes, you may have to sacrifice expression through body art as a nurse for your career to take off.

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