The Nursing Symbol Explained: Know the What and Why 


Ever went to the hospital and wondered why the equipment and uniforms of the staff are stamped with a symbol of two snakes around a pole? Well, you may not be the only one to notice this and question what a snake has to do with medicine. 

This symbol is known as the most recognized and oldest nursing symbol and is most commonly referred to as The Caduceus. It features two serpents wrapped around a staff with wings on both sides.  

Scroll down to learn more about the history and significance behind this odd looking symbol. 

What is the Nursing Symbol? 

The Nursing Symbol

It is a symbol that is most commonly referred to as the caduceus and is widely recognized amongst the other symbols used in nursing. The caduceus is the official crest of the United States Medical Corps, Navy Pharmacy Division, World Health Organization and the Public Health Service. It is internationally recognized as the symbol of health and medicine.  

The Origin and History Behind the Symbol 

The introduction of the caduceus dates well back to the 16th century. The early arrangement of the symbol consisted of an olive branch with leaves, which slowly evolved to a fork with two prongs wrapped around, which was later altered to have two snakes, as we now see it.  

The creation of the caduceus dates back to ancient Greece, where messengers and heralds would often carry a caduceus to signify their peaceful missions. However, it is also presumed that the origination may be credited to “the Assyrians, Hittities, and Phoenicians”.  

Hermes; the messenger God 

According to Greek and Roman mythology, it is believed that the caduceus belonged to Hermes or Mercury, who the Romans addressed as “the messenger of the gods”. The story goes that Hermes threw his rod at two snakes that were fighting, causing them to stop fighting and entwine themselves around the rod. 

The Rod of Asclepius belonged to Aesculapius, who was recognized as the Greek god of healing. Thus, this story marks the  origin of the caduceus being identified as the symbol of solution and healing.  


Significance and Usage of the Symbol 

The caduceus is now universally acclaimed as the symbol of health and prosperity. It is used by multiple companies and organizations that focus on advocating and promoting healthcare. The representation of the serpent’s habit of shedding represents immortal life. Hence, the caduceus is seen on stethoscopes, lab coats, scrubs, hospitals etc., because it is believed that the usage of the symbol would hopefully bring an improved quality of life to patients in need.  


Congratulations, you are now an expert in the origin and history of the caduceus, more than many medical students nowadays. It is astonishing that serpents, which in Christian tradition commonly signify betrayal and lies, can be associated with immortality and healing in the field of medicine.  

This proves to show that life all around us may look one-dimensional, but it is ultimately all in our perception. Maybe now, snakes don’t sound as scary anymore. 

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