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Should physicians have facial piercings?


OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to assess attitudes of patrons and medical school faculty about physicians with nontraditional facial piercings. We also examined whether a piercing affected the perceived competency and trustworthiness of physicians.

DESIGN: Survey.

SETTING: Teaching hospital in the southeastern United States.

PARTICIPANTS: Emergency department patrons and medical school faculty physicians.

INTERVENTIONS: First, patrons were shown photographs of models with a nontraditional piercing and asked about the appropriateness for a physician or medical student. In the second phase, patrons blinded to the purpose of the study were shown identical photographs of physician models with or without piercings and asked about competency and trustworthiness. The third phase was an assessment of attitudes of faculty regarding piercings.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Nose and lip piercings were felt to be appropriate for a physician by 24% and 22% of patrons, respectively. Perceived competency and trustworthiness of models with these types of piercings were also negatively affected. An earring in a male was felt to be appropriate by 35% of patrons, but an earring on male models did not negatively affect perceived competency or trustworthiness. Nose and eyebrow piercings were felt to be appropriate by only 7% and 5% of faculty physicians and working with a physician or student with a nose or eyebrow piercing would bother 58% and 59% of faculty, respectively. An ear piercing in a male was felt to be appropriate by 20% of faculty, and 25% stated it would bother them to work with a male physician or student with an ear piercing.

CONCLUSIONS: Many patrons and physicians feel that some types of nontraditional piercings are inappropriate attire for physicians, and some piercings negatively affect perceived competency and trustworthiness. Health care providers should understand that attire may affect a patient’s opinion about their abilities and possibly erode confidence in them as a clinician.

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Correspondence to Seth W. Wright MD, MPH.

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There are no financial or other conflicts of interests to report for any of the authors.

See Editorial by Beach and Saha, p. 312.

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Newman, A.W., Wright, S.W., Wrenn, K.D. et al. Should physicians have facial piercings?. J GEN INTERN MED 20, 213–218 (2005).

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Key words

  • physician attire
  • piercing
  • patient attitude
  • patient-physician relationship
  • dress code