Nursing Medical Symbol: What is it about?

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    I took a closer look at the medical symbol usually around the RN or anything associated with medicine and found it very interesting...

    Nursing Medical Symbol: What is it about?

    (The two snakes around the rod with the wings is's suppose to be a single snake around the rod with no wings)

    Either way, I would not wear this symbol because of what snakes/serpents represents.
    It's just my choice, not trying to convince anyone of anything.

    Interesting to know the origin of things.

    Take a look....

    The Rod of Asclepius (also known as the rod of Asklepios, rod of Aesculapius or asklepian)...

    Is An ancient Greek symbol associated with astrology and with healing the sick through medicine. It consists of a serpent entwined around a staff. Asclepius, the son of Apollo, was practitioner of medicine in ancient Greek mythology.

    The Star of Life features a rod of Asclepius.


    The rod of Asclepius symbolizes the healing arts by combining the serpent, which in shedding its skin is a symbol of rebirth and fertility, with the staff, a symbol of authority befitting the god of Medicine. The snake wrapped around the staff is widely claimed to be a species of rat snake, Elaphe longissima, also known as the Aesculapian or Asclepian snake. It is native to southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, and some central European spa regions, apparently brought there by Romans for their healing properties.


    There are several different theories as to the origin and development of the rod of Asclepius, any or all of which may have contributed to its development. The symbol is named for an ancient Greek legend, although the legend could be older.

    Greek Mythology

    According to Greek mythology, Asclepius was said to have learned the art of healing from Chiron. He is customarily represented as a surgeon on the ship Argo. Asclepius was so skilled in the medical arts that he was reputed to have brought patients back from the dead. For this he was punished and placed in the heavens as the constellation Ophiuchus (meaning "serpent-bearer"). This constellation lies between Sagittarius and Libra. In early Christianity, the constellation Ophiuchus was associated with Saint Paul holding the Maltese Viper.

    "Worm" Theory

    Some scholars have suggested that the symbol once represented a worm wrapped around a rod; parasitic worms such as the "guinea worm" (Dracunculus medinensis) were common in ancient times, and were extracted from beneath the skin by winding them slowly around a stick. Physicians may have advertised this common service by posting a sign depicting a worm on a rod.


    A similar symbol, Nehushtan, is mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:4-9. Attacked by a plague of snakes in the wilderness, Moses holds up a serpent coiled around a staff, both made from bronze, so that the Israelites might recover from the bites.

    A more in depth view on the Staff of Asclepius...

    About the Staff of Hermes...

    Confusion With The Caduceus caduceus-jpg

    The Caduceus, which has two snakes and a pair of wings.

    The Caduceus

    The caduceus is often incorrectly used as a symbol for medicine or doctors, in place of the rod of Asclepius which is the usual symbol of the medical profession. A 1992 survey of American health organisations found that 62% of professional associations used the rod of Asclepius, whereas in commercial organisations, 76% used the caduceus.

    Early confusion between the symbols almost certainly arose due to the links between alchemy and Hermes, whose symbol is the caduceus. The alchemists adopted the caduceus because Hermes, the God of Messengers, was also the patron lord of gamblers, thieves, tricksters and alchemists. By the end of the 16th century, alchemy became widely associated with medicine in some areas, leading to some use of the caduceus as a medical symbol."The Use of Mercury's Caduceus as a Medical Emblem" by Bernice S. Engle, a 5-page article in "The Classical Journal", Vol. 25, No. 3 (Dec., 1929), pp. 204-208, deals with the use of the Caduceus by Sir William Butts, c1491-1545, physician to Henry VIII, who used it on his coat-of-arms and was the first medical man to use it.

    The main reason for the modern confusion over the symbols occurred when the caduceus was adopted by the Medical Department of the United States Army in 1902. [1] This was brought about by one Captain Reynolds, who after having the idea rejected several times by the Surgeon General, persuaded the new incumbent (WH Forwood) to adopt it. The mistake was noticed several years later by the librarian to the surgeon general, but was not changed.

    There was further confusion caused by the use of the caduceus as a printer's mark (as Hermes was the god of eloquence and messengers), which appeared in many medical textbooks as a printing mark, although subsequently mistaken for a medical symbol.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '18
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  2. Poll: Do you know what the medical symbol represent?

    • Yes, I knew

      28.57% 34
    • I had no idea

      37.82% 45
    • I had an idea but didn't know the whole story

      21.85% 26
    • I didn't care just like to see or wear the symbol

      4.20% 5
    • Who cares

      7.56% 9
    119 Votes

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  4. by   Sparrowhawk
    .... ok.
  5. by   Mulan
    I don't like snakes or worms.
  6. by   gddss2000
    Here is a bit of a different read on the subject that gives a different perspective and some different information. Its All Greek Mythology To Me: What Is The Registered Nurse Symbol And What Does It Stand For?

    To nurses, and health care professionals in general, the registered nurse symbol stands as a symbol of accomplishment for completing school. It has become known over the last century as representation for healthcare professionals as a whole for the care and dedication put into this profession. In nursing school the registered nurse symbol is symbolic of the caring nature in nursing. One may ask where did the registered nurse symbol come from? Read on to find out.

    The Caduceus, or registered nurse symbol, is a staff that is wing topped with two serpents winding around it to the top. This staff was, according to legend, carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. It was given to him by Apollo.
    The symbolic representation of two intertwined snakes appeared early in Babylonia and is related to other serpent symbols of fertility, wisdom, and healing, and of sun gods. This staff of Hermes was carried by Greek heralds and ambassadors and became a Roman mark for truce, neutrality, and noncombatant status.
    This symbol has been the insignia of the healthcare branch of the U.S. Army since 1902. The registered nurse symbol, or caduceus, is much used for this purpose much like any other symbol would be used for services such as the Postal Service, commerce or ambassador positions. Since the 16th Century it has replaced the Asclepius one serpent symbol as the image of choice for medicine.
    Some people see the registered nurse symbol or Caduceus as a negative symbol for the profession, but even still, it’s a positive symbol of caring for those of us in the profession. No matter what the registered nurse symbol might seem like to others, to the common public it still remains a image from the nursing and medical fields in general, and consequently stands as a positive symbolic representation for them and a sense of comfort.
    This goes on to give the public a comforting feeling as they know how it is linked to healthcare in general. No matter the association with ancient mythology, the registered nurse symbol is regarded by most to be a positive image.
    Many “medical” organizations use a registered nurse symbol of a short rod entwined by two snakes and topped by a pair of wings, which is actually the caduceus or magic wand of the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury), messenger of the gods, inventor of (magical) incantations, conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves. Its meaning is ‘heralds staff’ from the Greek word karykeion. Itself based on the word ‘eruko’ meaning control or restrain.
    The registered nurse symbol or caduceus is used by other types of organizations, these are generally commercial or military in the U.S. Countries like New Zealand uses include pharmaceutical companies. A study confirmed that the connection of the caduceus and medicine was solidified around the 7th century A.D.
    This was around the time Hermes had come to be associated with the study of alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as sons of Hermes, or hermeticists. Cult associations can be found linked to the registered nurse symbol otherwise known as the caduceus.
    The magic staff of Mercury, otherwise known as Hermes, was the Caduceus. Associated today as the registered nurse symbol. Back in the time of Hermes this symbol was an image for heralds and commerce, not medicine. The other words associated with this symbol were caducity, imply temporality, and senility.
  7. by   GCom24
    What up allnurses, simple question here. The caduceus symbol (two snakes, one staff, wings) is commonly used to represent healthcare/medicine, much nursing-related paraphernalia, etc. While historically speaking, this is incorrect, The caduceus is technically a symbol of commerce (jokes about the current state of healthcare aside ). The "proper" symbol would be the rod of Asclepius, the deity of medicine and healing. This is seen in the star of life, used by EMS personnel.

    So my question is, as ER nurses, if you were getting a shirt, hat, tattoo, etc. would you want the caduceus, the rod of Asclepius, or the Star of Life on it? Which one and why? I appreciate any input.
  8. by   Dorali
    This is something that makes me crazy! Personally, I wouldn't want to wear something knowing that it was incorrect.
    My hospital has a statue of Asclepius in one of the flower beds out of front, which made me happy the first time I saw it!
  9. by   JBudd
    Hmm, the snake on a pole was first mentioned in Numbers 21:8-9, when Moses was instructed to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole for healing:

    "8Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." 9And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard: and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived".

    So the Greeks used it around 4th century BC, Moses 1450 or so BC.

    Where are you thinking the tattoo would go?
  10. by   kbrn2002
    While the Rod of Asclepius is more correct the caduceus is more commonly used. I would say for permanent body art go with what you like and feel is more appropriate as you will most likely have it forever. The Star of Life is as you said used for EMS personnel so I would rule that out unless you are indeed EMS as well as nursing.
  11. by   llg
    I wouldn't get either one as they are generally associated with medicine -- and I don't practice medicine. I am a nurse. I would go with something more associated with nursing -- like the lamp.
  12. by   GCom24
    Love that verse, didn't know about that! I always thought a classic right or left upper arm tattoo would be awesome.
  13. by   GCom24
    Quote from JBudd
    Hmm, the snake on a pole was first mentioned in Numbers 21:8-9, when Moses was instructed to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole for healing:

    "8Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." 9And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard: and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived".

    So the Greeks used it around 4th century BC, Moses 1450 or so BC.

    Where are you thinking the tattoo would go?
    I didn't know about that verse, I like that! Thanks! I always thought that a right or left upper arm tattoo would be classic.
  14. by   Denes21
    I'm currently in nursing school and will graduate with my BSN in less then 2 years. I have been looking at necklaces with the caduceus symbol on them or as some know, the "medical symbol." I'm very passionate about nursing and am extremely proud to be in nursing school and working toward my dream job. I'm debating on buying this necklace with this symbol now, or once I graduate. Is it disrespectful to wear if not technically a nurse?
  15. by   seaofclouds21
    I don't think it is disrespectful to wear one before being a nurse. I would think about if a necklace is really what you want though because you will be limited on when you can wear it in the future. You won't be able to wear it to clinicals or in most nursing positions. So, if it is a symbol you want to be able to have with you often, you may want to rethink what you get.