Please choose the correct symbol for your medical organization!
- A rod with two snakes and wings is called the Caduceus. It is the symbol for the ancient Greek god Hermes, known for being messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves. It is seen today as a symbol of commerce.
- A rod with one snake is called the Rod of Asclepius. It is the symbol for the ancient Greek god Asclepius, known for medicine. It is used today as a symbol for the medical profession.
In 1902 the US Army Medical Corp chose the Caduceus as their insignia. Most scholars regard this as a mistake. The US Army writes that the Caduceus represents “the non-combatant status of military medicine on the battlefield”. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes, “Among the ancient Greeks and Romans [the Caduceus] became the badge of heralds and ambassadors, signifying their inviolability.” So the symbol might be interpreted on the battlefield to mean, “Hey hey hey, I’m just a messenger, you’re not supposed to kill me!” To me, that feels like a stretch. But more importantly, the Caduceus definitely doesn’t convey an intelligible message in the civilian medical world. The “I’m a non-combatant” message doesn’t make sense, nor does the “Don’t kill me, I’m just a messenger” message.
So, if you have a medically oriented organization, please make sure that your rod has one snake and no wings.
There are many articles where historians and professionals delve into this issue. Almost all of them say the US Medical Corps are using the wrong symbol. Here’s a few to get you started:
- Finn, R., Orlans,D. A., Davenport, G. (1999). A much misunderstood caduceus and the case for an aesculapion. The Lancet, 353 (9168), 1978. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(05)77199-3
- Wilcox, R. A., & Whitham, E. M. (2003). The Symbol of Modern Medicine: Why One Snake Is More Than Two. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 138(8), 673. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12693891
- Things you don’t learn in medical school: Caduceus http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439707/