I already know that nearly everyone on the planet thinks that visible piercings and tattoos are not acceptable on nurses. So don't send me hundreds of e-mails telling me that. I don't need to read it. I know. It's an established, unquestioned rule, but I think it never hurts to ponder unquestioned rules, so this is me doing some observing and questioning.
Point. One my nursing school instructors GOT a tattoo on her forearm while I was in school. It wasn't an old one. Nobody cared that I could tell.
Point. One of the first mentors I had as a new nurse was an ICU nurse with a lip ring, a few eyebrow rings, a crew cut, and tattoos crawling up the back of her neck. She did wear blue lipstick that matched our mandated scrub color, which I thought was festive. This woman was the most knowledgeable, efficient nurse I've probably seen yet. I followed her around like a puppy quite a bit soaking up knowledge, and I saw NO instances of patients even looking askance at her (and no, they weren't all vented and comatose!). People seem used to this stuff.
Point. A common point is that elderly patients will be appalled at body modification, but I suspect this point is pure projection. I have had several elderly patients say my sparkly nose is cute (or similar), and a friend of mine who practically leaned to one side from all her piercings and worked as a CNA during school said elderly patients often commented positively on her appearance. I've never personally experienced nor heard personally of any patients of any age complaining of body mods on nurses.
Point. Judgement about piercings and tattoos is blatantly hypocritical in this society if approached fairly. Liposuction and cosmetic surgery---far more invasive and serious than most body mods---are not even questioned. A small nose stud turns up the same noses as women wearing giant earrings. Just saying.
Point. I currently work with a staff of which probably half have nose rings, multiple ear piercings, or both and of which several have visible tattoos. One has a labret. No one looks tribal or bizarre, and I didn't even notice these mods until I started looking, but the point is that no one seems to care. Are you a competent nurse? Do you act professional? Can you make me feel better, safely? Those are the questions that seem to matter to patients.
Counterpoints. I can't stretch my own mind far enough to tolerate offensive tats (racist tats or reclining naked women seem popular for some reason, but I've never seen that kind of thing on a nurse), and I would probably pause if I saw a coworker appear colored entirely in ink or listing to the right from a dozen facial piercings. I also speak up, to my associates' annoyance, when I see healthcare workers messing with their piercings at work. ANY of their piercings. They are wounds, with germs, and should not be touched at work, for the piercees' and patients' safety. I also don't approve of dangly jewelry of any kind...ears, nose, necklaces, anything. Kiddo fingers and drunk/disoriented patient fingers and hook that stuff and choke you or hurt you. I even cringe when I see the giant hoops the docs wear on "Gray's Anatomy." Nose screws are not a safety hazard. I can't even get mine out without pliers.
Anyway. I'm not, by any means, arguing for an open policy for body modification in the hospital. People would take it too far, and we as nurses do have a responsibility to inspire trust in our patients. My point is, rather, that a small nose stud or the tip of a Mickey Mouse tattoo peeking out from under a scrub sleeve has almost zero chance of affecting that trust. The days of starched white skirts and a single set of ear studs have been over for some time.