Doctors and Piercings: The Debate

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I like piercings and tattoos. To a limit, of course. I could not imagine tattooing my arms from shoulder to sleeve. But that is just me. I am not about to make any judgments about you if you do.

If someone used unsterile needles or lead paint, or took poor care of the raw piercing however… I might be pissed. Juuuust a little.

Anyway, my two piercings in both ears and bellybutton piercing were done with good forethought and with great care. I like them, although I forget they are there most times.

I want a nose piercing. One of those tiny ones that you barely see unless it glistens in the sun (yeah, I’m a weird sorta romantic. Sorry). But I am not deaf to the fact that many people expect doctors to act responsibly, and that piercings are not always seen as responsible behaviour.

So a while ago I asked Facebook and WordPress whether they thought that it was a good idea for doctors (or health practitioners) to have nose piercings. On Facebook, I had 53 responses: 16 YES, 24 NO, 13 AMBIVALENT. On WordPress I received nine responses: 4 YES, 3 NO, 2 AMBIVALENT.

Some people were kind enough to elaborate on their choices.

One of the main explanations was that it shows disrespect to the human body and thus results in a patient who does not respect your authority as a health care practitioner.

This, to me, is a moot point and perhaps a “problem” – for lack of a better word – with our incredibly diverse society. Some groups of people have an aversion to any kind of physical alteration, as simple as ear piercings or hair colour. Other groups have no problem with minimal alterations – think Indian cultures – while other less defined groups see no problem with any amount of piercings or ink.

What I’m getting at is this: with such a diverse patient base, you will never be able to please everyone – or even near everyone. I bet you even if a doctor is the most conservative on earth, his or her dress code will at some point offend a patient (if only for being out-dated).

My point is that a doctor is visited because a person needs healing or comfort. What matters first and foremost is that you can give the patient what he needs and as the owner of five piercings, I can say with reasonable certainty that an artificial hole in the body does not affect your aptitude.

Something else that enters the debate often is the issue of professionalism.

Firstly, if you look at the (very subjective) definition of professionalism, it is “to conform to the technical or ethical standards of a profession”.

So: would having a nose piercing (or a tattoo for that matter) prevent me from abiding to the ethical behaviour expected of a medical professional? Does it prevent one from saving lives? Does it keep one from assisting your patients in making healthy life choices? I think not, but I welcome further debate.

The other comment I get a lot is that it advocates an alternative lifestyle or shows your patient that you like to challenge norms and values. And, of course, that this is a bad thing.

Perhaps it is me. I won’t lie that I am sometimes a little rebellious, but never simply for the sake of rebellion.

Whoever said that doctors had to be conformists? And, as explained earlier, conform to WHAT, exactly? Being educated and a leader is worth nothing if you choose simply to conform to your society’s prejudices.

That’s what Steve Biko’s doctor did when he fraudulently documented that Biko died of slipping on a bar of soap – and a fat load that helped freedom in South Africa.

And who is fighting against the stigmatisation of HIV; and who is stitching up women who are beaten for their sexual preference, and who is advocating for their rights while other members of our society continue to spit at gay women?

Doctors. Because doctors are perceived as leaders of society and sometimes a leader must step away from simply acquiescing to what their people demand and rather shine light on the truth, on what is RIGHT.

Perhaps you feel I am taking this out of proportion. But you see, matters such as these long since stopped being about a simple piercing. It is about mindsets.

Will I be perceived as “less serious” by my patients if I have a nose ring? Perhaps. But is that entirely a bad thing? I am so tired of hearing terminal patients tell me, “Doc, I didn’t come earlier because I didn’t want to be judged.” Is our supposed professionalism scaring away our patients?

And since I am turning to professionalism again, allow me to say this: I have seen the most atrocious examples of misconduct from doctors in fancy suits and combed-back hair. Doctors who text while listening to a patient’s history. Doctors who insult a patient in a language they think he does not understand. Narrow-minded doctors who speak above patients with advanced myositis, giving very much truth to the “butterfly and the diving bell” effect.

How is that professional? I would much rather have a tattooed doctor who respects me in conversation, thank you.

To be honest, I have been asked to leave a consultation because a patient felt uncomfortable telling his story to a young girl. And it took me forever to have the opportunity to place a male catheter, because my seeming youth and gender embarrassed them. And those were things I had no control over. And they clearly were not sick enough. The man with severe urethral obstruction had no objection to testicular examination.

Am I getting a nose piercing? I am still unsure, more due to logistics than anything else. But as yet it shall remain a possibility.

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10 thoughts on “Doctors and Piercings: The Debate

  1. I would not judge my doctor for having a piercing or a tattoo, but I know other people do. It’s also an issue in education. The kids think my (very modest!) tattoos are cool, but sometimes I think my fellow educators and the parents judge me. A lot of it is generational.

    I love this post. “Being educated and a leader is worth nothing if you choose simply to conform to your society’s prejudices.” Exactly.

  2. I’m personally not a big fan of piercings on physicians, as I think there is a significant group of patients who are bothered by them and have less respect (fairly or unfairly) for physicians who have them. That being said, I think it’s highly dependent on the patient population one is working with – I think piercings are far less acceptable for a geriatrician than they are, say, for a pediatrician or a specialist in the HIV clinic. Ultimately I think it should be a matter of personal choice, but I think anyone considering getting a piercing should be aware of the fact that it influences patient perceptions and trust in their physicians.

  3. Pingback: TTT: “Grow old along with me…” « Whispers of a Barefoot Medical Student

  4. I’m sick of job descrimination. Or people juding just becuase the way you look I have 8 facial peircings. And my earlobes streched (3/4th) . In school.. I’m a great student teachers love me. People who don’t know me get the worst idea of me. I want to be a doctor it’s been my life goal dream since a kid and my dream college is the university of Chicago. I have not seen any doctor with peircings or tattoos but half or more if this young generation is tattooed and peirced. Why should the way we look like affect what we want to.do in this world. Were all different. Tattoos.and peircings. Are My life it’s not a phase it’s not a tend. It’s a way of life

    • One of my friends in third year medicine has many piercings and tattoos. She’s had some discrimination by older doctors, but her patients love her. I understand the need to look professional, but I think people’s definition of what “professional” is might be rather narrow. I don’t know dude, but I agree – it’s so horrible to decide on a person’s eligibility judging on their appearance. In the end I guess it comes down to respecting each other’s beliefs… which is a fine line to tread. Best wishes with your dreams to study medicine, I trust that it will work out for you.

  5. Pingback: Doctors and Piercings: Two Years Later | Whispers of a Barefoot Medical Student

  6. I have been searching google for an answer to this very same question!! I’m about to begin my last year of Pre-Med, and I want to know whether or not you have 1) seen doctors with nose rings or 2)gotten a nose ring yourself. I’ve wanted one for about the past year, I just didn’t want it be an impulsive choice (since the scarring and the hole will be there for a long time).

    • Hi Njeri, glad you happened upon my blog. As this post was published in 2011, may I suggest you read my follow up, which I posted more recently. You can read it here: http://barefootmeds.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/doctors-and-piercings-two-years-later/
      In short, I did get the piercing. I think it needs to be an individualised decision though. I haven’t had negative feedback, but it was suggested to me that I remove it before big oral exams as some older professors might be prejudiced about it.
      I have seen a few doctors with nose piercings.
      As for scarring, I wouldn’t worry too much. When I remove my piercing for whatever reason, the hole starts closing up within two hours. Also if you get the piercing studio to put the piercing in the nose dimple (where it looks best, in my opinion, anyways) the scarring is probably even less.
      The biggest things you should worry about is if you are prone to keloid scarring? If you’ve never developed keloids from ear piercings or surgery, then your chances are probably pretty low. And of course, infection is a risk. If you do get the piercing, I’d suggest you get it at least 6 weeks before having any patient contact, and to be rigorous with salt baths so that it heals well.
      Anyway, I hope the follow up post will be useful for you. If you have more questions after that I’ll be most happy to answer them. Keep well and good luck with your journey!

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