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.