What Are Some Traditional Medical Signs and Symbols?


Quick Answer

The caduceus and the red cross have traditionally been used to represent medicine and medical practices. The caduceus became a symbol of medicine in the United States due to a mistake in interpretation, according to the American College of Physicians, while the red cross symbol was adopted in 1863 by the future International Committee of the Red Cross, states the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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Full Answer

The caduceus was adopted as a medical symbol by the United States military in the 18th and 19th centuries, after it was mistaken for the Rod Asciepius, which had traditionally been used as a medical symbol, states the American College of Physicians. Both symbols feature snakes wrapped around a rod, but the caduceus also has two wings sprouting out from the top of the rod.

The red cross symbol was developed as a response to "A Memory of Solferino,” a book detailing the horrors of the War of Italian Unification and its many wounded and abandoned soldiers. While the symbol was created in 1863, it was not officially recognized until 1864, when the First Geneva Convention officially recognized the symbol. The symbol uses the reverse color scheme of the Swiss flag as to represent the neutrality of the armed force's medical services, states the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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