Nursing Symbol: The Meanings and History

What are the symbols of being a nurse, and what is the history behind each symbol? There are many nursing emblems that represent this amazing profession.

What are Nursing Symbols/Emblems?

Are there registered nurse logos? Nursing is a profession that spans many centuries and has created multiple millions of jobs for people throughout history. Nursing is an essential component of health and healthcare, and nursing as a career has become associated with symbols throughout the years. These nursing symbols are necessary for identification and promoting unity within the profession. There are three main nurse emblems that we will explore in this article. 


The Caduceus

You have likely seen this symbol; you just may not know it’s name! Associated with nursing and health, this nursing sign is a staff covered in two twisting snakes, topped with angel wings. This is the most commonly associated symbol of the nurse.

The nurse caduceus is often found on uniforms, paramedic gear, and medical equipment. The RN caduceus originated in ancient Greece and is also known as the “herald’s staff.” In Greek mythology, it is associated with Hermes, the Greek god. Hermes is known as the “Herald of the Gods,” and his primary role was to act as a soul-guide or conductor to direct souls into the afterlife.

The caduceus became a nursing emblem by accident. In the 1500s, physician John Caius became the founder of Caius college at Cambridge carried a silver caduceus (staff). While the staff looked similar to the caduceus of Hermes, it was different. As the symbol became more popular, it was assumed that Dr. Caius used the caduceus of Hermes. This is how the RN caduceus became heavily associated with the medical field!

Now, the nurse caduceus is used for nursing-related apparel, such as shirts, necklaces, bracelets, and more.

The Oil Lamp

While this may seem like a weird nursing sign, the oil lamp is very associated with the nursing profession. In many ways, the oil lamp is the original symbol of the nurse.

The oil lamp nurses symbol originates from Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. During the Crimean War (1853 – 1856), Florence Nightingale was sent to the front lines to take care of wounded soldiers. 

During this time, disease, illness, and wound infection were rampant. Many soldiers lost their lives to preventable infections and injuries due to a lack of medical training and a poor understanding of microbiology. By implementing handwashing and basic hygiene techniques (not standard during this time), Florence Nightingale was able to reduce the death rate of soilers from 42% to 2%. She is credited as the founder of modern medicine as she implemented scientific theory into healthcare.

While providing care for the soldiers, Nightingale carried an oil lamp. This lamp became associated with Nightingale, and she was often referred to as “the lady with the lamp.” The oil lamp has become synonymous with nursing in modern times. This nursing symbol holds meaning as the creation of contemporary nursing, while also being the birthplace of a new career path acceptable at the time for women to pursue.

Florence Nightingale saved countless lives with her work and changed the path of healthcare forever. Many newly graduating nurses are given lanterns when they start nursing school as a symbol of the journey they are to begin. Florence Nightingale and the oil lamp are essential emblems of nursing.

Florence Nightingale Oil lamp
Statue of the famous nurse Florence Nightingale in London.

The Nursing Cap

Another familiar registered nurse and nurse practitioner symbol is the nursing cap. The nurse’s cap was introduced early into the creation of modern nursing, as women primarily dominated nursing at the time. The objective of the cap was to keep a female nurse’s hair neat and tidy during her shift to maintain appearances.

The nurse’s cap is white, with occasional embellishments. Women were historically expected to wear this cap during every shift they worked with a matching white uniform. It was traditional for newly graduating women to be “capped” at a ceremony to confirm the completion of their nursing program. 

There are two main types of nurse’s caps – the long cap and the short cap. The long cap was used for women with longer hair, which covered the majority of their heads. This was very similar to surgical scrub caps today. The short nurse’s cap was used more for women with short hair, which sits on top of a nurse’s head. This is the more common nurse cap in the United Kingdom and North America.

This nurse’s symbol was initially used by Florence Nightingale. However, widespread usage of the nurse’s cap in healthcare has been dramatically reduced since the 1980s. When nurses graduate from nursing school today, many students are offered the opportunity to take graduation photos with the nursing cap on. Male nurses do not wear a nursing cap.

Today, the nurse’s cap is used as a symbol of nurses. Halloween costumes of nurses commonly use the nurse’s cap as well. 

Nursing Cap


Nursing is a complex career that has spanned many generations. Because of its rich history, nursing has many symbols and recognizable emblems associated with it. 

The caduceus is the most commonly recognized symbol of the nursing profession. A very recognizable symbol of modern healthcare and medicine, the caduceus is associated with nursing and is frequently put on nursing-related paraphernalia.

The oil lamp is another symbol of the nursing profession. Originating from the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale, the oil lamp was used to provide care to injured soldiers. She is credited with the creation of the modern nursing career, using scientific evidence in her care to reduce mortality. She is the founder of nursing, which is a career held by millions of people around the world.

The nurse’s cap is a symbol of nursing associated with the image of a nurse. Worn with a white uniform, the often white nursing cap was used to identify nurses by their role and maintain a clean and tidy appearance. The nurse’s cap reduced in prevalence in the 1980s as more male nurses joined the profession. Today, the nurse’s cap is used during newly graduated nurses’ photos and in Halloween costumes. 

Symbols and emblems are an essential component of any profession. Nursing is a valiant, meaningful, and rewarding career. Using these symbols to increase unity and companionship throughout the profession is an excellent way to bond people within the profession.