Study: Most patients don’t mind if their doctors have piercings, tattoos

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Would you be concerned if you noticed your doctor sported a nose ring or a neck tattoo? A recent study found that visible body art such as piercings and tattoos on a health care provider don’t have any discernible impact on patient opinions of professionalism or competence.

Previous research indicated that patients prefer doctors wearing traditional attire, but those studies primarily relied on descriptions and photos of doctors, rather than actual clinical experience.

For this latest study, researchers with the St. Luke’s University Health Network surveyed nearly 1,000 emergency care patients in a large urban area in Pennsylvania about their doctor’s appearance and their impressions of them after a visit. Seven doctors who also participated in the study were outfitted with either fake tattoos or piercings, or both, or neither. Specifically, the patients were asked to rate their doctor’s competence, professionalism, approachability, caring attitude, trustworthiness, and reliability on a scale of one to five. The patients were told that the surveys were used to help improve the hospital’s medical care.

Patients rated all these factors highly in their doctors 75% of the time, whether they had visible body art or not. The findings lead the authors to believe that policies indicating body art are prohibited because they lower patient satisfaction or a provider’s professionalism are unfounded.

According to the researchers, tattoos and body piercings are becoming more common. In 2016, about a third of young US adults aged 18 to 25 years said they had at least one tattoo. Nearly 40% of US adults aged 26 to 40 had at least one tattoo.

“Given these statistics, those who enter the medical field today are more likely to have body art than medical professionals did previously. Despite this, dress codes and institutional policies at most hospitals still prohibit medical professionals from having visible body art,” the researchers wrote. “Physician tattoos and facial piercings were not factors in patients’ evaluations of physician competence, professionalism or approachability.”

The study was published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.