Doctors working in a hospital environment with heavy patient contact are generally advised not to have piercings. But that’s mainly because of the conservative nature of the job rather than any legal precedent. Patients, for the most part, seem to be impartial.
According to a 2015 study published in the BMJ that looked at over 900 patient interactions, exposed body art (including piercings) was said to “not significantly change a patient’s perception of a physician.” Speak to medical professionals on the other hand and they’ll tell you there are unwritten rules in many hospitals pertaining to a doctor’s personal appearance. It’s not uncommon for some to ask their employees to remove certain piercings.
Anecdotally as a med student at least, I don’t see too many doctors with obvious piercings (aside from female doctors wearing earrings or studs). But that’s not to say there aren’t any out there! Unlike tattoos, another form of body modification that has a controversial reception in healthcare, they’re easier to remove too.
Related: Can Medical Students Have Tattoos?
Most of the time, whether a doctor has a piercing or not, comes down to the policy of the medical institution they operate in. These can also differ across states, countries and continents with different world cultures seeing body modification in different ways.
Can You Have Piercings in the Medical Field?
Piercings, as long as they’re not deemed “offensive”, are generally accepted in the medical field. Sometimes, in certain institutions, these rules are more relaxed the further you go down the chain of command. The dress code and personal appearance protocols of a doctor, for example, might be very different to that of a lab operator with little to no patient interaction.
Another thing to consider when discussing piercings in the medical field is whether they are deemed unhygienic or a safety risk. To really determine this, you’d need to examine each individual type of piercing and the risk they pose. Modest piercings, like simple ear studs, would likely be safe. It’s hard for them to catch on any machinery or instruments.
Other factors could include:
- Cultural Climate: hospitals are diverse settings and differ massively from place to place. What’s deemed appropriate, appearance-wise of US healthcare workers for example, might be very different to that of those in India.
- Patient Attitudes: geriatric wards or other areas of a hospital that deal with multi-generations of people might not be the best environments for visible piercings owing to the prejudice or opinions of particular patients.
- Type of Piercing: not all piercings are equal. Ear piercing, especially in women, is arguably much more acceptable than tongue, facial or other body piercings.
Can Doctors Have Nose Piercings?
The more discreet a nose piercing, the more acceptable it will generally be among medical institutions. Nose rings are typically more visible. Certain hospitals might ask rings to be removed or switched out for a less visible stud.
Again this depends on individual healthcare institutions. As well as what type of doctor you are and what kind of wards you mostly work on.
Can You Have Piercings in Medical School?
Pre-clinical years of med school, where there’s little to no patient interaction, are very compatible with piercings and other forms of body modification. Graduating to more clinical-based learning however, where students are expected to present themselves to patients, might carry with it a request to cover or remove a piercing. It really depends on the Medical University in question.
Usually med schools have some kind of literature to refer to for med students asking these types of questions. If in doubt, ask the student affairs body of your institution for reference. Alternatively, you could approach the human resources department of your student hospital.
Do Piercings and Tattoos Affect Chances of Getting a Job in Medicine?
Body modification, although it’s difficult to prove given hiring practices, could affect your chances of getting a job in medicine. It’s probably safe to say it’s not going to help or add to your chances either.
Most likely it will come down to the attitudes or prejudices of the people involved in the hiring process. The older they are, although its a stereotype, the more conservative or ‘traditional’ they might be. As a result, they might have their own attitudes over how “professional” they deem piercings to be.
In the future things might be different. As tattoos and piercings become more common among attendings and employers responsible for the hiring practices in hospitals, the controversy over the issue will probably die down.
The best way to gauge the situation is to probably err on the side of caution. If you have a piercing and are unsure about how it might be perceived when going to interview for a healthcare-related job, it could be best to remove it or cover it up initially.
Once you’ve secured the job or got to know the hiring team a little more you could then revisit the issue.
There’s no general consensus as to whether doctors can have piercings or not. Most decisions about the personal appearance or dress codes of physicians are made by the institutions themselves. For many doctors, just as this group of British doctors help to highlight, the lack of clarity on the issue is a source of frustration.
Most of the time however, it seems to come down to the following:
- The type, location and number of piercings
- The patient demographic
- The institutions’ dress-code or protocol
- Unconscious bias in hiring practices
- The “image” a particular hospital or clinic is attempting to portray
Personally speaking, I don’t feel that piercings should be a big deal when it comes to working in medicine. If a physician is competent enough, regardless of how they choose to look, is surely the bigger issue. But I also accept maybe patients don’t necessarily feel this way!
Image Credit: Kimia Zarifi at Unsplash