Going into Optometry… with Tattoos.

Photo of ICO Blogger and his neck and finger tattoos

Photo Cred: my good friend Vakishan Nadarajah

I will start off by saying that this is a biased opinion regarding tattoos, and I speak only on behalf of myself. This is not an argument for or against tattoos; it is merely one opinion. Here, I leave my thoughts and hopes, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll do my tiny little part to change the modern perception of tattoos.

I was thinking the other day about how different things have become since I was first accepted into optometry school. When I was applying to ICO, I worried about the essays I had to write, the prerequisites I had to complete, and interview preparations.

…but there was one other important thing that I worried about: the way people would perceive my tattoos. They can be very noticeable. First impressions are difficult to change, and if I was to become an optometrist, I didn’t want my tattoos to be the reason people doubted my abilities and competency. My worries were so strong that, at one point, I considered having one of my more visible tattoos removed.

Tattooing has existed for thousands of years and its history is fascinating- deeply intertwined with culture, tradition, and religion. They have been used as symbols of beauty, social status, rites of passage, and group membership (e.g. sailors). They have also been associated with delinquency and criminality. In our modern world, it’s not uncommon to see elaborate pieces of art tattooed onto someone’s skin, with more and more people using tattoos to express their individuality or deeply personal sentiments.

It is clear that tattoos have meant very different things for many different people across time and cultures.

The ink that adorns my skin has a purpose. To me, they are reminders of lessons I want to take with me throughout my life. I chose noticeable locations so that I would be reminded of their meanings, but that also means that other people can see them.

Two of mine are shown in the photo above. The ring represents the faith that others have had in me. It is a reminder that I have loved ones standing in my corner no matter how difficult things become. It inspires me to be there for them and to go on when I want to give up.

Fitting in was difficult for me growing up, and I have at times pretended to be someone I am not in order to be accepted (who hasn’t?) The III on my neck is there to remind me that it is perfectly fine to be myself. I see it every time I look in the mirror. It is a lesson I still sometimes struggle with and apparently still haven’t taken completely to heart, but I’m only human. I’m certainly trying.

To be honest, I don’t know if my tattoos are well-received by the professionals I have met. Most of the time they’re covered up, but they do peek out when they want to be mischievous (that’s a joke). My tattoos have only once been mentioned by an attending doctor, who seemed to like them. I can say that I’ve only been greeted with compliments and curiosity by those who have seen my tattoos when they are uncovered.

I don’t think much about my tattoos these days. It seems almost silly that I ever worried about my tattoos. Many of my fellow classmates have them, and I have never felt held back for having them. It’s almost like they aren’t there, although I do occasionally notice an eye flick towards my tattoo when having a conversation with someone.

I believe that my peers don’t mind tattoos, but I do get the impression that there is still a stigma associated with tattoos out in the “real” world (outside ICO). A search on Google reveals that there is a negative perception of visible tattoos in the workplace, but the stigma appears to be disappearing, although slowly.

As for the me, I think that tattoos have a place in in this modern world of optometry. The artistic expression of self through any medium is a personal, fulfilling, and worthwhile pursuit. I don’t know if every professional would agree with me, but I think that there is one thing that everyone can agree on: if you plan on being a professional with a tattoo, be tasteful- especially if your tattoo will be visible- and let your passion for patient care speak for the kind of clinician you are, not your ink… no matter how awesome it may be.

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