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Can I get into EMS with tattoos?

Tattoos don’t make you a bad EMT or paramedic, but whether you’ll get to display them is another story

By EMS1 Staff

Personal appearance has always been a big deal in EMS. In recent years, however, the focus has shifted away from body piercings and drastic haircuts to whether EMTs and paramedics should be allowed to display visible tattoos.

Even though you may be fully committed to providing excellent care, patients may still form the wrong impression of you based on a visible tattoo.

You may be able to find a great job with an EMS agency while sporting tattoos, but in general, care providers are advised to think before they ink.

EMS agencies prefer ‘no visible tattoos.’

The gold standard is: tattoos should not be visible in a uniform. If you do have tattoos, you may be required to wear long sleeves while on duty.

Just because your tattoos aren’t hateful or discriminatory doesn’t mean they’re not offensive. For example, skulls, knives, and “Race the Reaper” tattoos may be off-putting.

As an EMS provider, you’ll need to quickly earn the trust of patients who may be terrified for their lives. You don’t want them to doubt your quality of care because of your personal appearance.

There may also be a time when you need to show up in court to defend your actions on an EMS call. In that case, you’ll to look as clean-cut and professional you can.

Can I get hired in EMS with tattoos?

During the hiring process, some EMS agencies may require candidates with tattoos to submit photos of their body art to be approved by senior management. Interviewers might ask questions like:

  • What does this tattoo mean?
  • How do you think a patient would interpret this?

In general, your chances of getting hired anywhere will drop if you have hand tattoos (except perhaps for a wedding band) or anything visible above a shirt collar. Your odds of getting hired with prominent face tattoos or tattoos with racist/sexist sentiments are even lower.

An EMS agency with a strict tattoo policy will probably also have rules on natural hair colors, piercings, and facial hair. Some departments are more relaxed about these rules than others, but the most versatile appearance for EMS is clean-cut and conservative.

Which EMS agencies allow tattoos?

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, about 40 percent of U.S. households reported that at least one member had a tattoo. It’s becoming a lot more commonly accepted, and may not be an issue at all (barring offensive content) depending on where you work.

Departments in larger cities may allow first responders to display their body art at the discretion of their chief and superior officers. You might be surprised at how many public EMS and fire agencies are okay with tattoos.

If you are committed to having visible body art, consider working for a larger and less conservative city. As long as you do your job well and keep the rest of your appearance tidy and professional, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place in EMS.