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Individuality vs. professionalism

So, I’ve been giving the thought of the line between individuality and professionalism some thought in the past few weeks.  As medical students, we write essays about the CanMEDs roles until we pretty much can’t take it anymore, and the hardest role to write about always seems to be professional.  Because, honestly, what makes someone a professional doctor?  The CanMEDs framework says that:

“…the Professional Role is guided by codes of ethics and a commitment to clinical competence, the embracing of appropriate attitudes and behaviors, integrity, altruism, personal well-being, and to the promotion of the public good within their domain.”

Which is great, but vague enough that it leaves a bit open to interpretation.

Like say, is it unprofessional to have tattoos and be a doctor?

Now, this is one of those questions where yes or no are both probably valid in different scenarios.  A tattoo in plain sight that had offensive language or an offensive symbol would probably be argued by most as a “yes” to that question, perhaps because one believed it indicated poor decision making they wouldn’t want in a doctor, or a personal view they wouldn’t want someone to have while treating them.

But I find this argument gets a bit more complicated when you take the obvious and the extreme out of the equation.  Do you feel that a tattoo that is neither offensive or obvious is unprofessional for a physician?  Some people will say no, and some will still say yes, and the argument becomes interesting for me for those people for whom the answer would still be “yes.”

Because here’s the thing: I support your opinion to not like tattoos, or to not want a doctor who has tattoos. That’s your right as a human being, and my opinion that doctors with tattoos aren’t unprofessional is no more or less valid than your opinion.

And yet, on the other hand: I’ve met some absolutely fantastic doctors who have tattoos.  And substantial tattoos – full sleeves on arms or covering half of their back.  These tattoos mean something personal to them and in no way affect their ability to practice medicine, and yet, because of those people who might still find them unprofessional, they have to hide them.

And this gets me thinking: where do we, as a society draw the line on what is socially “unprofessional?” Why would these:

20150913_000239 20150913_133943 (Both temps)

Be possibly unprofessional expressions of individuality and personality when this:

20150914_18392820150914_184121 (My shiny new Doctor Who Tardis inspired sapphire ring).

Or the sparkly nails in the first pic are not? Why is a pink streak in your hair ok, but a pink stain of ink on your skin might not be? Both of those tattoos ideas are something that mean something to me and my life – neither are offensive messages.  And yet, although I could get the foot one because I could cover it up in all patient interactions, I couldn’t get the wrist one because although it can be covered by a watch band, if I want to do OBs it would be uncovered for 3 minutes while scrubbing in before I put gloves on, and that 3 minutes is to great of a risk.  So, for me, the wrist tattoo is out because I put my future career ahead of my right to freedom of expression, but I wonder, in the future, will this be a trade-off people still have to make?

In the end I don’t know, but to you, reader, I’d love to know what you think, if you feel comfortable sharing. Are tattoos on doctors unprofessional or not and why?

Also, unrelated, but one might notice I upgraded the blog and changed the domain name and colour scheme a bit. This isn’t because I’m planning on doing anything more professional or monetary on it, but just because I was almost out of space for pics and so the upgrade gave me 10 more GBs for that 🙂 But yeah, new colour scheme: like, not like?

2 Comments »

  1. I’ve been thinking of getting a tattoo (a line from a Shel Silverstein poem), and my ideal place would be on my left wrist, but I’ve decided against it because I’m worried about the backlash at work. I think many people are okay with doctors with visible tattoos, but there also are some who aren’t; therefore, I think most physicians would be wise to avoid any tattoos that can’t be covered during patient interactions.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty much what I ended up deciding. I guess it just sometimes bothers me that an opinion like that is driven by a minority, but I also understand why that is and respect that view.

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