By John Carruthers, assistant editor, July 01, 2013
Though visible tattoos no longer carry the social stigma they once did, bearing gang-affiliated tattoos can seriously hinder one’s professional and social development. For those who have left that lifestyle behind, the often-crude tattoos can serve as a painful reminder of a regrettable time in their lives. Medford, Ore., dermatologist Douglas Naversen, MD, volunteers his time helping former gang members shed the reminders of past indiscretions and get their lives on track.
"The problem is that some of these tattoos make people unemployable until they're removed. The people who come in for removal all show a desire to change their lives."
- Dr. Naversen’s tattoo removal activities are run through a program of his devising that trades laser removal sessions for community service work. Before their first session, applicants to the program do 32 hours of community service at a food pantry, animal shelter, or other community-supported nonprofit. Afterward, sessions are provided at the rate of 10 hours of service per session.
- “Getting them to do the community service creates a win-win. If they’re working toward a goal, they value it more. If you just give it away for nothing, people don’t always appreciate it.”
- For a home-inked tattoo, Dr. Naversen said, as little as four treatments might erase the image completely. But the more elaborate professionally-done designs require up to a dozen treatments, meaning a potential outlay of 142 hours of community service for a patient wishing to get a large professional design removed.
- A number of patients have entered the program with highly stigmatizing visible tattoos — gang symbols, Nazi iconography, and other objectionable images. But one patient. Dr. Naversen said, had perhaps the most objectionable expletive tattooed on her hand when she was still a minor. Years later, she found it a significant hurdle to gainful employment.
- Dr. Naversen’s tattoo removal program continues to grow throughout surrounding area. He said that he has enjoyed being able to ease the lifestyle transition for a great many patients.
- “I find it rewarding to help someone start a new chapter of their life,” he said. “In addition to helping them move on, no longer having the tattoos often gives them greater self-confidence.”
To nominate a physician, visit www.aad.org/membersmakingadifference.