Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Remembrance of Nursing Pins Past

The land of the free and the home of the brave was once home to 4,000 diploma schools of nursing  each with their own unique nursing pin. These pins were typically designed by committee and the final version was often a hodge-podge collection of sometimes divergent elements. It was tough for a committee to come up with a consensus for a coherent design.  At my alma matter the pins were the responsibility of the Admissions and Promotions committee and it required weeks of heated discussion to decide if one letter on the pin should be changed to reflect the conversion of our hospital to a "medical center." After much heated debate it was decided to change the "H" which was for hospital to "MC." Nursing pins were sacred symbols and change did not come easily.

Implant something in an adolescent brain while it's developing and it sticks forever. We were brainwashed  conditioned  into believing our pin was the ultimate reward for 3 years of soul crushing labor while  subjected to near constant badgering and belittling by down right mean instructors like Miss Bruiser. That beloved pin had a transcendant element to it that required a compulsory level of reverence. It was the alpha and omega to any 3 year diploma student. The  radiant pin glowing against a pure white background was the first thing your eye settled on when a nurse appeared on the scene and it told the story of a nurse's experience. If only nursing pins could talk.

I spent many hours staring at the cover of RN magazine when their annual nursing pin edition was published. A cover adorned with 30+ pins in glowing color was a feast for any diploma grad's  eye. The most common pin design was a Maltese cross with the schools initials plastered one on top of another over the center. I just loved pins with a singular sculpted design like the  Ravenswood Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago. The pin featured a beautiful version of the Good Samaritan that seemingly glowed in the dark. Wow.. that was one heck of a pin.

Speaking of good samaritanns this unusual pin featuring a beaver really got my attention. Simple, straightforward design at it's best. Beaver's are like nurses; hard working and they have the ability to modify their environment for unexpected needs. Beavers are also continually growing just like me after too much hospital cafeteria food. I really cherish this pin and think it has much better aesthetics than mine which resembles a policeman's badge. While working in psych, I found that it was prudent to remove my pin lest I be confused with an undercover cop.

Another animal themed nursing pin with a serene looking moose in the foreground framed by the hospital's name. I wonder why the moose is gazing in the opposite direction from the beaver. I think it looks better from a nurse's view looking down to have the animal facing the nurse.   The cross in the background forms a lovely backdrop. It takes a moose 3 years to attain adulthood and 3 years for a diploma nurse to graduate; an interesting fact that ties it all together. A moose also has muscular shoulders and nurses acquire the same qualities  after a stint on the orthopedic ward. I admire these two pins because they are straightforward and very pleasing to the eye.

So many pins contain multiple symbolic features that are difficult to decipher. I was admiring the floral design on a friend's pin and was quickly informed they were no ordinary flowers. "That's the Papaverum somniferum plant that is the source for opium," I was told. Her pin was symbolic of the nurse's duty to relieve pain.

It really bothers me when I hear that present day nurses must pay money for their nursing pins. A nursing pin was no ordinary commodity that could be purchased with money. Blood, sweat and tears were how we paid for our pins. The symbolic meaning of a diploma nurse's pin stays with a person forever. I sneak little glances at my pin all the time just to remind myself of who I was am.


  1. I often wonder why in the USA they are called "pins" and here in Oz we call them "badges". But yes weren't you proud when that illustrious badge (pin) was finally attached to your immaculate white startched apron! If you got further certificates after that - such as midwifery or thoracic or psych - you got a little enamelled oblong badge (called a bar) with "midwifery" or whatever written on it, attached to your original badge by little chains. When you saw a nurse coming who had three of these things attached to her bosom - meaning she was a Triple Certificated Sister - you practically prostrated yourself before her in awe.

    They've abolished nurses badges here completely and I think that's sad. I have a friend still nursing and she still wears her badge and she says the patients always comment on it.

    I once had to have blood taken and noticed the nurse working for the pathologist was wearing a St Thomas' Hospital badge - that revered institution where Flo herself trained.. it was absolutely beautiful. She was immensely proud of it. They now sell for hundreds of pounds...

    We were rather envious of the British nurses who got elaborate silver belt buckles on graduation too - each design specific to their training hospital. A friend of mine who nursed in the UK for a while told me she felt very unhappy that she was the only nurse at the hospital who didn't have a lovely belt buckle to wear!

    I think modern nursing students miss out on that special day where you got your badge and veil (cap) & recited the Nurses' Pledge. Some traditions are worth keeping.

    Lovely to read your post OFRN as I don't know much about the badges (pins) over there. Cheers, S.

  2. Looks like the Illuminati have infiltrated the nursing profession, too. Such symbolism! Just kidding. Those are really interesting and I'll bet somewhat collectible. Do they still give out things like this? My father was a textile chemist and had several pins relaying to that from his years in education and professional organizations. I still have a couple of them.

  3. Thanks so much to both of you for taking the time to comment. Sue, I like your "badges" terminology because it sounds more official than pins. We were pinned by the chief of surgery as the hospital director handed us our diplomas. Whenever I doubted my ability as a nurse which was frequent in the beginning, I looked down at that pin and reminded myself that an accomplished surgeon said I was good enough.

    Jono as nursing education moved from the hospital to an academic setting many old traditions were lost. A local university here in Pittsburgh did away with pins, but substituted a "white coat ceremony." I think I would have sided with the pins and left the white coats for the MDs.

    I often gaze at the beautiful nursing pins on Ebay-just type nursing pins in the search box and feast your eyes. It's sad to think that pins can be monetized, but that's the way of the world. My pin has got me through hell in the past and I think it will probably be a prudent idea to bury me with it.

    1. I've always looked at nurse badges on Ebay by typing in nurse/hospital badges - and they are all UK, Australia, New Zealand etc. I tried what you suggested and typed in "nursing pins" instead of badges and yep, all the Canada/USA badges come up. Aren't some of them lovely.

      I think you're right about the moose head on that badge OFRN - it would look better if it faced the other direction - towards the nurse's body. It's very nice though! What a lot of thought went into the design of nurses badges (pins) - they truly were beautiful. Thanks for a lovely post! S.

  4. I still have mine... somewhere!