Nursing Symbols – What Are Those?

Nursing symbol

Some traditional nursing symbols are prevalent in our society and are now losing their initial meaning day in day out. Medical symbols have been in existence for quite some time, especially nursing symbols.

Even though more advanced and efficient practices are now replacing some of these symbols, their origin is captivating and significant, enlightening us about what nursing entailed during those days.

Let’s look at the various nursing symbols and their meaning.

Nursing symbol: The Caduceus

Nursing symbol caduceus

The Caduceus is one of the most popular and oldest nursing symbols that is known to many. It comprises of a staff entangled by two serpents, at times with wings on top, and can be spotted on medical equipment, uniforms, and other stuff.

It’s believed that the caduceus was an Ancient Greek symbol that represented the god Hermes. Other symbols similar to caduceus were discovered in ancient India and the Near East during early human civilizations.

Nevertheless, the symbol was not intended to denote medicine in any way.

The Ancient Greeks had a symbol known as the Rod of Asclepius that was used to represent medicine, but it was somewhat similar to caduceus. The two are alike, only that the Rod of Asclepius has one snake enfolded around a short staff.

Some intellectuals think that this symbol was inspired by the act of drawing out parasitic worms from the body with the help of a stick, an act that is still practiced up to date.

The popularity of the Caduceus increased significantly in 1902 when the US Army Medical Corps adopted it.

Since then, a considerable number of commercial health organizations ditched the Rod of Asclepius for Caduceus, though professional medical organizations opted for a single snake and rod (without wings).

Nursing symbol: The Nurse Cap

Nursing symbol - the Nurse Cap

The well-known image of the traditional nurse wouldn’t be deemed complete without the prevalent nurse’s cap. Though their popularity has continued to decline in most parts of the world, they remain an integral part of the tradition of nursing.

Actually, there used to be two types of a cap, namely long cap, and short cap.

The long cap was designed to cover nurse hair as a whole, whereas a short cap was meant to cover the hair partially.

The caps are white in color and starched to keep a nurse’s hair intact when performing her roles.

The idea of caps was borrowed from deaconesses, who were early Christians. They used to wear white clothes for easy identification as medical practitioners among their religious groups.

Since then, nurses in all parts of the world began to wear white caps while on duty to avoid distractions resulting from hair and for easy identification.

Although these caps are of great benefit to nurses, especially when it comes to identification, they also pose the risk of spreading the illnesses within the medical centers, and that’s why they are being dealt away with slowly.

Nursing symbol: The Nurse’s Uniform

Nursing symbol - The Nurse's Uniform

The Nurse’s uniforms have been popular for quite some time, but nowadays, they are slowly being replaced by more practical scrubs. The traditional uniform was composed of a blue dress, cap above, and pinafore apron.

At times, the conventional uniform featured a nursing pin, for learners, which denoted the school the learner was from.

Similar to caps, the idea of uniforms was derived from early Christian nurses’ customs. Before nursing was a religious occupation, but with time this transitioned to the secular occupation.

Despite the transition, there were no changes in the mode of clothing, along with customs like nurses referring to one another as “sister.” Once the first uniforms were designed, they were extensively adopted worldwide.

Nowadays, those uniforms are nowhere to be found, as they have been replaced with more practical scrubs.

However, medical and sterile scrubs will never bring into existence the exact image and traditions such as starched caps and spotless dresses.

Nursing symbol: The Oil Lamp

Nursing symbol - The Oil Lamp

The oil lamp is one of the least popular nursing symbols. It differs from other symbols derived from ancient beginnings, as it’s well documented and has a close connection to one of the essential figures in nursing, commonly known as Florence Nightingale.

Learn more about Florence Nightingale:

In most cases, the lamp is used whenever there are pinning ceremonies, where new nurses will hold it up and rehearse a nursing pledge.

The lamp denotes nursing customs of devotion and selfless work. The devotion and selfless aspects among nurses are demonstrated by Florence Nightingale’s service in the Crimean War, which lasted for three years (1853-1856).

It’s at this time that Nightingale transformed the nursing occupation for nuns and older women into an important and respectable occupation.

She used to sleep late, caring for the patients, and this made people refer to her as the “lady with the lamp.”

Nightingale continued to demonstrate the same level of dedication even after the end of the war, and she chose to return to London to establish the first school of nursing and educate young women to be understanding and dedicated when it comes to serving others.

Most of the nursing pins used during the pinning events contain an oil lamp in respect of Nightingale’s sacrifices.

Nursing symbol: The Nurse’s Cap Necklace

The introduction of nursing caps was followed closely by the cap’s necklace. The necklace was designed to ensure the cap would remain intact without the possibility of falling or adjusting when a nurse is performing his or her duties.

The cap necklace holds the cap firmly, relieving nurses from the distress of picking the cap whenever it falls. Just like the cap, the necklace is visible and, to some extent, makes it easy to identify a nurse.

After the making of the first necklace, medical practitioners from all parts of the world adopted it and made it custom. The hospitals made it compulsory for the nurses to wear caps along with necklaces to avoid inconveniences that may occur in the workplace.

Similar to caps, the use of necks has declined in the 21st century as it is now being replaced with advanced medical clothing.

Nursing symbol: Nursing Pin

Nursing pin

It’s a type of badge which is worn by nurses to denote the nursing school they attended and graduated from. There is a tradition to present nursing badges to the graduates at a pinning ceremony to welcome them into the occupation.

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Every pin has a specific meaning regarding the history of the nursing program for a particular nursing school.

The Maltese cross is the founder of the nursing pin. Maltese cross was used in setting hospital standards when it came to the building of hospitals to counter infectious diseases during his reign.

As the rejuvenation period begins knocking, the use of the nursing symbol has transitioned into the family coat of arms, then awarded to those who used to offer exclusive services.

Such pins were given to nurses who were to come to the rescue of the society during the times of transmission of unregulated diseases at an early stage and to identify them as professional nurses who are skilled, knowledgeable, and conversant with the medical issues.

Nowadays, the design of the nurse’s pins has gradually changed.

The Maltese cross, in some nursing learning institutions, has been dealt away with and does not feature in their pins. In place of the Maltese cross, the learning institutions have replaced it with their logo.

Despite the changes, the pin is still incorporated in nurses’ uniforms, up-to-date.

It is worth noting that nursing pins vary extensively in terms of shape and imagery. An ancient oil lamp is an example of this type of graphic.

The lamps and candles were the only sources of lighting before the discovery of kerosene early in the 20th century.

Florence Nightingale museum offers a wide selection of these lamps, but things have changed, and people are now parting away with some of these features.

What is the Nursing Symbol?

In conclusion, nursing symbols are features that give more information about the origin, history, objective, and changes that have taken place in the field of nursing.

From the above, the Caduceus symbol enlightens people about the reason why it is used in nursing logos and, at times, uniforms. These nursing symbols help us to understand why Caduceus was preferred over the Rod of Asclepius and the difference between the two.

As seen from the above, the two are alike only that the Rod of Asclepius contains one snake enfolded around a short staff.

It also enlightens us about the rise in popularity of the Caduceus and why most commercial health organizations opted to use it over the Rod of Asclepius.

We also get to learn about the history of nurses’ uniforms and the reasons for their introduction. The need to make it easy for people to identify nurses with ease was the motive behind the introduction of uniforms.

Besides, nurse’s caps were designed to help the nurses to maintain their hair intact to avoid disruptions when performing their duties.

The oil lamp nursing symbol is incorporated in nursing uniforms to honor Florence Nightingale, who was dedicated and selfless in helping the victims of the Crimean war without minding about the race, color, origin, and religion.

It also acts as a remembrance of her contributions towards nursing, including the building of a nursing school in London after the end of the Crimean war.

Now you should know all about the nursing symbols.

Here are a couple of related articles of ours if you would like to learn some more about nursing:

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About Ida Koivisto, BSN, RN, PHN

Ida is both a registered nurse and public health nurse. Her passion is to provide as much valuable information about nursing to the world as possible. In her spare time from work and blogging, Ida loves to work out at the gym and spend time with relatives.