Lydia, Oh, Lydia, Lydia the Tattoed Lady

Comment & Opinion

Brian Booth, RGN

Further Reading

This is not a rant; I really want know what colleagues think about the subject.


Visible tattoos*, nose studs, multiple piercings and the like.

Cards on the table: I think such things often demonstrate poverty of imagination, a bit like the crowd in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (no relation) chanting ‘Yes! We are individuals!’ in unison.

The first thing we want to present to patients, scared and unsettled as they are, is an image, long recognised in the cliché ‘trust me, I’m a nurse’. The world has changed – thankfully – from that I knew when asked what their name was, the answer from my seniors was ‘Nurse’ (the same type who would call all patients ‘Mrs Woman’). I don’t want a return to starched hats and aprons; but I do think we need to consider what we look like to the people who are, often literally, entrusting their lives to us.

Forget infection control: a nurse with hair hanging down the back of her uniform does not inspire confidence. A student nurse with a snot collector on her nostril is not someone I would want changing my dressings. Anyone whose earlobes are worth a fortune in scrap value is not, however unfair you may think this, a person I’ll automatically take on trust.

Uniform policies exist; why aren’t they enforced? Or, if the world has changed so much that they are no longer fit for purpose, why aren’t they scrapped?

And finally: am I a bit mad, to dislike seeing nurses in uniform schlepping around my local supermarket?

Some years ago, I visited a hospital in Essex, as part of work I was doing on The Productive Ward. I have long said that you can forget key performance indicators, ‘dashboards’ and outcome measures – the experienced nurse knows within minutes whether a place is up to scratch or not. (Something the CQC should know, but it doesn’t look that way.) The whole place just felt right; then it dawned on me that their uniform policy was being strictly enforced. Every single nurse and HCA I met looked like a professional.

* Yes, nurses really do have tatoos - they even have a website...

Sorry, I’ve just realised I could have saved you the time and trouble of reading this, simply by asking ‘why can’t nurses look professional’?