Until about a month ago, Mississippians looking to get a medical tattoo to cover a scar from a medical procedure or accident had but one option — a tattoo parlor.
Now, however, they have another choice — Hattiesburg Clinic.
“We found that many of our clients are uncomfortable going to a tattoo parlor,” said Richard Pecunia, MD, FACS, a provider with Hattiesburg Clinic Plastic Surgery who was instrumental in bringing medical tattooing to the clinic. “These are clients who are cancer survivors or have suffered some sort of trauma. They already have a poor body image, and going to a tattoo parlor is just too uncomfortable for many of them. Now, they can get a medical tattoo at a safe, accredited health care facility from a trained, credentialed medical tattooist.”
Pecunia added that many clients need medical tattoos in sensitive areas, such as mastectomy patients looking for areola reconstruction or those disfigured in an accident. Pecunia saw many of these clients, and was moved to act. Looking to fill the demand personally, Pecunia tried his hand at medical tattooing, but found he lacked the level of skill to perform the procedure effectively.
So, approximately two years ago Hattiesburg Clinic started working toward bringing in a medical tattooist. The clinic didn’t have to look far for their person.
Becky Olsen is a native Mississippian and certified tattooist who formerly owned a beauty-enhancement business in nearby Columbia offering such services as electrolysis hair removal. Over time, she saw a growing demand from clients seeking medical tattooing and cosmetic procedures such as permanent makeup. One client in particular led Olsen into looking at medical tattooing.
“I had a person come in who had no eyebrows and had gotten permanent makeup in Florida to hide the condition. The procedure had not been done well, and It was horrible,” Olsen remembered.
Looking to offer a better, healthier environment for such procedures, Olsen subsequently went to Baton Rouge, La., putting in approximately 70 hours of work and performing more than 100 procedures to earn her medical tattooist credentials. Olsen brought that service back to her business, which she has now closed to work full-time at Hattiesburg Clinic.
“I like to say that if plastic surgery is the cake, medical tattoos are the icing,” Olsen added.
Through Olsen, Hattiesburg clinic now offers medical tattoos and permanent makeup procedures. Both Olsen and Pecunia report that demand has exceeded expectations, and they expect demand to keep rising as Hattiesburg Clinic tries to get the word out that the service is now available for the first time in Mississippi through an accredited health care facility. In only approximately a month of launching the new service, Olsen has performed dozens of procedures at the clinic.
Hattiesburg Clinic does not offer the growing yet controversial service of medical alert tattooing. Rather than wear a medical bracelet, some patients prefer to get a tattoo on their body to warn health care providers of a preexisting condition such as diabetes. The medical community does not back medical alert tattooing, and Pecunia said Hattiesburg Clinic has no plans to offer that service.
One challenge Hattiesburg Clinic’s medical tattooing service does face is insurance. Many insurers refuse to cover medical tattoos, even if they are to cover scars from surgery. Pecunia said while he understands many insurers balk at paying for vanity procedures such as permanent makeup, it is upsetting when they will not cover clients who have been disfigured from surgery, illness or accident.
“We fight that battle every day with insurance providers,” Pecunia said. “It is very frustrating.”
Still, Pecunia said Hattiesburg Clinic believes demand for medical tattooing will only grow, and while the clinic has no plans to add another tattooist at this time, it is a distinct possibility in the future.
Olsen certainly hopes so — on a professional and personal level. She said the rewards of her work are many. Mental attitude is key to recovering from a medical procedure or accident, and medical tattoos offer a new lease on life, and Olsen said seeing a patient walk in with a scar or disfiguration and walk out with a smile is fulfilling.
“When I was a child, I was in a four-wheeler accident,” Olsen said. “Fortunately, I did not suffer significant scarring, but I can’t help but think when I look at my clients that could have been me.”
For more information on medical tattooing at Hattiesburg Clinic, visit www.hattiesburgclinic.com.