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Should there be limits on EMS tattoos?

Has your department’s policy on body changed over time?


What should be considered an acceptable amount or location for body art for EMS providers?

Image Adam Nell/Facebook

The U.S. Army this year changed its tattoo policy to one where soldiers will no longer be limited to a size or number of tattoos, while continuing to prohibit tattoos on the head, face, wrists and hands.

What about tattoos for EMS providers? What should be considered an acceptable amount or location for body art? Has your department’s policy on tattoos changed over time?

We posed the question to our EMS1 LinkedIn group and received a range of answers. Here’s what a few readers had to say:

Okay with ink

“Tattoos don’t save people, people do. Some of the nicest people you will ever meet have tattoos.”

—Jacques Olivier, EMT supervisor, South Africa

“Cultures from the dawn of man have permanently modified their bodies. The modifications many times served to indicate passing from childhood to adulthood. They symbolized cultural status. They had religious purpose. A person has many reasons to permanently alter their body. It is wonderful to live in a time where for the most part that reason is self-expression. Fewer constraints on self-expression leads to happiness. Any person in HR will tell you that happy employees improves productivity and quality.”

—Tommy Watson, graduate nurse, CHI Luke’s Health (Texas)

Cover ‘em up

“This issue has been presented numerous ways and with different thought. The long and short of it is customer service. Yes I said it; even though we are in a life saving business in both truly emergency situations and quite a few not so emergent, we are still providing a service and our patients are our customers, along with all taxpayers if you work for tax supported agency, and facilities we may pick up and drop off at.

I have no problem with tattoos in general, but support and agree with the upcoming army stance: not on face, neck, or hands, and I prefer that arm tattoos be covered by sleeves. We are victims of various views; some elderly patients will automatically [be] on edge at the sight of certain tattoos, as well as “dark themed tattoos” (skulls, guns, reaper...) have no positive view by any when representing any public safety position (think show and tell to kids - they won’t hear a thing if they are distracted seeing you talking about how you will be nice while you are showing guns, blood, and reaper on your arm). Be tasteful and just conceal on duty to me is common sense.”

—Kent Trovillion, District Chief EMS, Nashville (Tenn.) Fire Department

Keep it professional for the patient

“I have been fortunate to work in public safety for almost 20 years. I have also served my country twice. First on the US Coast Guard on active duty, then in the US Army Reserves. I have also worked in an emergency room for some time. Throughout all this time I have been acquiring my collection of tattoos. I now have two very tasteful sleeves, (artwork that covers your arms from shoulder to wrist), as well as many more that cannot be seen in public.

The decision to get my artwork had many outside influences. However, it was my personal choice to display it as I do. Im sure it has offended some people in some way, but rarely do I ever hear about it. My customers, the community I serve, is more or less intrigued. I get asked daily what my artwork means. I get complimented daily for my artwork. I feel very strongly that a person should be able to display something as meaningful as a tattoo that they got to remember or commemorate an event.

That being said, I do feel there are certain places, e.g. the neck and face, that should remain tattoo free if you work in the public. I say that because the public in general still stereotypes people with tattoos. They associate neck, face, and hand tattoos with, for lack of a better word, deviants or criminals. Now I myself in no way make that assumption. I realize people are individuals and will always express themselves however they see fit. Thats a right as a human being. I’m simply saying that society as a whole has only recently accepted visible tattoos in the professional, and public service workplace.

I feel in time tattoos will not be such a stereotype, that society will openly accept them, and not even notice them.”

— Jay Boudreaux, flight paramedic, AirEvac Lifeteam, West Virginia

“I completely agree with not having tattoos in the face or head; the neck and hands are kind of in the grey area. I am young in this business and have tattoos myself that are concealed by my uniform, but do have plans to continue my artwork to other parts of my body.

When it comes to the concern of the patients comfort, what is on my skin shouldn’t be important. The care and compassion I provide each and every patient I come in contact with is. The problem at hand is that who should really be offended is the person who is having a preconceived judgement passed on to them because they have tattoos. I’m supposed to treat every patient with respect whether they’re a drunk driver that just wrecked and severely injured innocent people or a drug abuser who is combative and rude. I would hope that I would be treated as I treat any and all whom I come in contact with, regardless of their color, creed, religion, or personal choices.”

— Kristopher Parrish, EMT, All County Ambulance, Florida

“Does the appearance of a professional convey your skills and ability? No. Does it affect how the public perceive you as a professional? Yes.

Saying tattoos convey nothing about our ability to perform our duties is the same as saying wearing jeans and t-shirts to work is ok and has nothing to do our jobs. Both statements are true but I would not go to work today dressing like some sort of rebel. We are here to provide care to the sick and injured in their time of need and we need to gain the trust of patients and their families in very short amount of time. Our appearance is one of the few things we can do to present ourselves as professional, along with interacting with professionalism.

There are occupations that allow you to be freely express yourself, like being an artist or entrepreneur. But being a healthcare professional is not one of them.

However, I do not believe it should be a rule or regulation against tattoo. If you would like to take your chances at your next job interview showing your tattoos, that is your choice. I have heard that the likelihood of lawsuits and complaints in healthcare is determined heavily on patients’ initial impression of the providers instead of their care they provide. I like my job and I prefer to keep it.

As long as you know and accept the cost of tattoos as a healthcare provider, it should be your choice.”

— Douglas Wo, paramedic, Schuylkill (Pa.) EMS

Join the EMS1 LinkedIn group to read the rest of the answers and to add your perspective.