Combining Art and Nursing: Becoming a Medical Tattooist
When I tell people I work as a medical tattoo artist I almost always receive a confused look in return. Ten years ago, I would have given the same expression. But that is before medical tattooing changed my world.
If you look in my grade school yearbook, under my name you will see “artist” listed as my future career goal. There is a carefully placed graphic of an artist’s palette and easel with a canvas next to my picture. Fast-forward 9 years to when I am a graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.
After spending my entire grade school, high school, and early college years in the fine arts, you might be surprised to hear that I ended up a nurse. Sometimes it still surprises me. But I had to follow my gut and trust that it would lead me to the right place. I happily work as a practicing RN today. I love caring for patients and their families, and helping people leave the hospital in a better condition than when they arrived.
My nursing career began in the heart and vascular surgical ICU, caring for some of the sickest patients in the hospital. I grew close with many of the patients throughout their recovery - often using my hidden art talent to make patients smile. A Disney character drawn on a whiteboard or a sketch hung on the wall can go a long way in distracting a patient from the overwhelming feel of a hospital. Art is healing.
Four years into my nursing career, I read an article that featured a nurse who performed medical tattooing. At that very moment, fireworks went off in my head and all my years in art quickly danced to the front of my memory. I knew then that medical tattooing would be a part of my life. I felt it.
Getting there was a whole other challenge, but I was determined.
At the time, medical tattooing had just come to the forefront of the medical profession. There were few medical tattoo specialists and even fewer training programs. So, I tucked the fireworks and memories away in a safe place.
My nursing career took me to the recovery area of the hospital (the “PACU”), where I work to this day. In the PACU, I care for women after mastectomies and breast reconstruction surgeries. Seeing these patients’ intense bravery and recovery strengthened my desire to become a medical tattoo artist and to use art to heal.
I continued to search for a way into the medical tattooing profession. The University of Pennsylvania stood out because they contracted Mandy Sauler, a medical tattoo artist with a strong background in traditional tattooing. Mandy and her team are pioneers in the world of medical tattooing. They recognized the need for medical tattooing services and founded the Sauler Institute of Tattooing, which now has locations in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. I was lucky enough to be in their first cohort of students in the fundamentals of medical tattooing course. I was even luckier to apprentice under their direct guidance and mastery. Mandy and her team are the reason I fulfilled my dream of becoming a medical tattoo artist.
Well, that brings us up to speed on my journey. So enough about me…back to the opening question: “What is medical tattooing?”
Medical tattooing, also known as “micropigmentation,” is the art of using traditional tattoo needles, machines, and ink for the purpose of enhancing the appearance of surgical reconstructions or scars.
With tattooing, I create the illusion of natural 3D nipples. I use shading and fine detail to form and color areolas. I camouflage scars that healed lighter or whiter in color by using pigments that match the undertones of the patient’s skin. The best part about the entire process is that I work with my patient every step of the way. Through medical tattooing, I combine my two passions of nursing and art to help patients reclaim their bodies and their confidence.
So what makes medical tattooing different from traditional body art? Medical tattoo artists are specially trained to tattoo on compromised skin such as reconstructions or scars. Often medical tattoo artists work in medical facilities and along with plastic surgeons to offer a clinical and private environment for tattooing.
Today, I use my palate of colors on a new kind of canvas, and my grade school self is smiling.