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Body Art, Piercings in Physicians – What Do Patients Think?

August 3, 2018

Written by Clay Smith

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Tattoos or atypical body piercings did not seem to impact patient rating of physician competence, professionalism, caring, approachability, trustworthiness, or reliability in this single-center study.

Why does this matter?
As societal norms change, more people are opting to get tattoos or atypical body piercings.  Many clinicians or staff are asked to cover body art at work, which raises infection control concerns.  It may make them look like they are covering huge wounds with bandages.  Mayo has apparently decided to allow non-offensive tattoos to be uncovered.  What do patients think about tattoos and piercings for their doctor?

Does my naked sea wench tattoo look unprofessional?
This was a cleverly designed study in which validated measures of physician competence, professionalism, caring, approachability, trustworthiness, and reliability were used.  What set this study apart was each physician served as his or her own control, either appearing “clean” (with no tattoo or piercing) or having a fake, but quite authentic appearing tattoo (see figure), body piercing, or both.  “Body piercing” for men was a 7mm silver clip-on ear hoop; for women a colorful 3mm fake plastic nasal stud stuck on with tissue glue.  Patients were given a validated survey at the end of the ED visit about, “how we can better provide you with courteous and competent medical care,” but were blinded to the study purpose regarding body art and piercing.


From cited article

From cited article


Turns out, patients didn’t seem to care.  They rated all the physicians with the highest marks whether they had tattoos, piercings, both, or none.  The major weakness was this was a single-center study with only ~6 physicians: 3 male, 3 female.  And, of course, the fake tattoo did not have offensive words or images.  Most companies and hospitals still require such tattoos to be covered.  But it removed a source of bias that previous studies did not.  The results certainly seemed to indicate that this had no impact on patients’ opinions about their provider.

An observational study of patients’ attitudes to tattoos and piercings on their physicians: the ART study.  Emerg Med J. 2018 Jul 2. pii: emermed-2017-206887. doi: 10.1136/emermed-2017-206887. [Epub ahead of print]
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Reviewed by Thomas Davis

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