Last week I mentioned the new nurse who was having difficulty finding a job. We were at a social gathering of many nurses and she was sitting directly in front of me with a variety of tattoos and facial piercings. She knew my experience and asked me for help. I was literally caught between a rock and a hard place…
I first asked her to tell me where she had applied. Her interests were in acute care (of course) and she wanted to eventually work in an intensive care-type setting. I asked her if she had any experience as an assistant or nurse-extender and she replied that she had – several years. And she had graduated in the top 10% of her class and passed the NCLEX state board examination on the first attempt 3 weeks after graduating from school. She was perplexed…
I needed to approach the touchy topic of personal appearance but didn’t have a good idea how to do this without criticizing or insulting. I decided to ask her for her opinion as to why she isn’t finding employment which opened the door…. “I think it’s because I have so many tattoos and I’m pierced.”
Whew! I then asked her what she was planning to do about the tattoos and piercings since they seemed to be interfering with her finding employment. That’s when the volcano erupted! “What do you mean what I am planning to do about them?” I needed to learn what the school of nursing that she attended thought about these items….
I did a bit more digging and learned that she had had the tattoos and piercings before applying to a school of nursing. She was told that they would not interfere with attending clinical as long as she had asked every one of her assigned clients if they would mind. If the client declined her care as a student she would wear gloves the entire time to keep her hands covered. The school had expected her to wear studs in her pierced facial body areas to minimize the risk of infection.
After she explained the school’s approach I suggested that she take the same during the next interview. I suggested that she:
• Explain the tattoos
• Describe how they were handled during clinical experiences
• Discuss how the clients were asked if they minded having a nurse with tattoos
• Relate how gloves were used for those clients who minded the tattoos
She agreed to use this approach and we both hoped for the best…
Several weeks had gone by and I found myself again in the company of the new graduate. She approached me and was pleased to tell me that she had been offered a position on a Medical-Surgical unit in a small community hospital. The hospital does not have an extensive intensive care program but it does have specialty departments including hemodialysis and an emergency room, so she was hoping that in a short while she could transfer to a different care area. She also shared that she was investigating laser treatments to see if any of the hand tattoos could be removed. This situation had a happy ending.
Through my experience with tattoos and body piercings I learned that there are geographical differences in how they are handled in schools of nursing. Along both East and West coasts in major city schools of nursing, the limits include no tattoos on the hands and only two ear piercings. The nostril piercing was mixed. A few schools of nursing didn’t have a policy to address this body area but others did and the direction was “tastefully” placed. Throughout the South and Mid-Western states, schools of nursing had policies where tattoos were not permitted on the hands and piercings were limited to the ears only.
I believe this issue is going to attract more attention in the years ahead. Many people are returning to school later in life and pursing education as a nurse. These individuals may have been in professions or have other life experiences where tattoos were accepted and even encouraged. I believe as long as organizations have policies to address and ways to approach the colleague with tattoos and body piercings, professionalism will be maintained without sacrificing individuality.
Thanks for reading and see you next week!!