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How my tattoos have affected my career (so far)

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Erin Sevde is a third-year student at Ross University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, originating from Portland, OR. With a special interest in emergency medicine, she is the Co-President of RUSVM’s Student Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (SVECCS) chapter as well as a board member for National SVECCS. When not studying, she enjoys spending time with her boyfriend and their Island dog and cat. Her bulldog Angus is also waiting at home with an amazing foster family. The island is just a bit too hot for a bulldog.

I get a lot of questions regarding my tattoos and how they affect me at work and school, or if I’m worried about finding a job after I graduate. People also ask me if I have ever been treated differently because of them. The answers to these questions aren’t as simple as you think—some of them may even surprise you.

No, I have never been treated differently by an employer, or potential employer, because of my tattoos. And no, I have never had a client treat me differently because of my tattoos (that I was aware of).

I’ve also been asked if I would work at a clinic that did not allow my tattoos to show. The answer to that is yes, I absolutely would, especially if it was my dream job or an amazing opportunity.

Getting asked to cover them up doesn’t necessarily mean the doctors I will be working with feel any different about me. They hired me after all, so they liked something they saw regardless of the tattoos on my skin. It may just be the policy of the hospital or the clinic could be in a more conservative area. The rules of a hospital don’t always reflect someone’s opinion. They could just demonstrate a hospital’s concern for the comfort of the clientele.

Do I think I need to cover my tattoos? No. But at the same time, I want to be known for the veterinarian I am. I want people to value me for the kind of medicine I practice and how I make my clients feel, not by the ink on my skin. It’s not like I would mind being known as “the tattooed doctor.” I mean, that would be pretty cool right? Just maybe not right from the start.

But what about first impressions during an interview? Do I worry about my tattoos affecting the interviewer’s opinion?

Here’s the thing: I am not naïve to the fact that people are inherently judgmental.

Yes, I cover my tattoos at every job interview. Yes, I also inform them about my ink and ask about their policy at the end of the interview, or more often, after accepting a position.

I think most of the time, those of us with tattoos assume people will or are treating us differently because of them. I remember once walking into an exam room with two older clients and made an assumption that they would dismiss what I said, and be staring at my tattoos while I was trying to communicate with them about their pet. I was wrong. They glanced at my tattoos when I walked in (you can’t blame people for looking), and after that it was as if nothing else mattered except what was at hand. Which is how it should be and how it often is. I think part the problem is we are too quick to assume that people will be quick to assume. This ends up perpetuating the tension surrounding tattoos and body modification in the workplace.

Now it’s time for what might be an unpopular opinion… Personally, I think certain tattoos should be covered at work, especially in the medical field.

I believe anything inappropriate or lewd should be covered. I know I may get some hate for this one, but I believe skulls should be covered as well. Before you decide to hate me, put yourself in the clients’ shoes. Imagine if you were coming to a vet clinic in an emergency situation, have a pet in critical condition, or if you are there for euthanasia. Would you want one of the first things you see to be a skull? If you were not religious, would you want to see a religious figure? The same goes for tattoos involving politics or strong opinions. It may not bother a lot of people, but to some it could be very upsetting. So, when considering the feelings of potential clients, I think it’s appropriate to ask someone to cover their tattoos.

Things are becoming increasingly progressive and the idea of visible tattoos in the workplace is more accepted. My tattoos are for no one else but me. They aren’t for others to see (even though everyone can). So, why does it matter if I have to cover them up for a few hours a day?

I have made many connections through externships and conferences and not once did I feel like I was treated differently. I have been asked to return to hospitals I externed at, as well as invited to new hospitals, and all of those invitations have been extended to me regardless of my tattoos. I got every job I applied for at a veterinary hospital. I worked for high dollar vineyards and was an assistant trainer at very expensive equine facilities among other things. Not one person at any of these jobs treated me ay different. They related to me well and I could tell felt comfortable not only working around me, but relating to me as well.

Things take time. Tattoos may be a very normal part of life for a lot of people, but for many others they are still very unfamiliar. We have to be patient.

That being said, if a clinic asks me to cover them, I see no issue. They hired me for me, my skill, my personality, and my capability. Not for my tattoos.

Not everyone thinks the way I do and there is nothing wrong with that. It is something we should all remember as we interact with everyone in our lives—client or colleague.

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