The Emergency Medical Care Symbol
by Arline Zatz
Just as pharmacists has the mortar and pestle and doctors have the caduceus, Emergency Medical Technicians have a symbol, its use is encouraged both by the American Medical Association and the Advisory Council within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The symbol applies to all emergency medical goods and services which are funded under the DOT/EMS program.
Designed by Leo R. Schwartz, Chief of the EMS Branch, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the "Star of Life" was created after the American National Red Cross complained in 1973 that they objected to the common use of an Omaha orange cross on a square background of reflectorized white which clearly imitated the Red Cross symbol. NHTSA investigated and felt the complaint was justified.
The newly designed, six barred cross, was adapted from the Medical Identification Symbol of the American Medical Association and was registered as a certification mark on February 1, 1977 with the Commissioner of Patents and Trade-marks in the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety and Administration. The trademark will remain in effect for twenty years from this date.
Each of the bars of the blue "Star of Life" represents the six system function of the EMS, as illustrated below: The capitol letter "R" enclosed in the circle on the right represents the fact that the symbol is a "registered" certification.
The snake and staff in the center of the symbol portray the staff Asclepius who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Apollo (god of light, truth and prophecy). Supposedly Asclepius learned the art of healing from the centaur Cheron; but Zeus - king of the gods, was fearful that because of Asclepius knowledge, all men might be rendered immortal. Rather than have this occur, Zeus slew Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Later, Asclepius was worshipped as a god and people slept in his temples, as it was rumored that he effected cures of prescribed remedies to the sick during their dreams.
Asclepius was usually shown in a standing position, dressed in a long cloak, holding a staff with a serpent coiled around it. The staff has since come to represent medicine's only symbol. In the Caduceus, used by physicians and the Military Medical Corp., the staff is winged and has two serpents intertwined. Even though this does not hold any medical relevance in origin, it represents the magic wand of the Greek deity, Hermes, messenger of the gods.
The staff on the star represents Medicine and Healing. Each of the six "points" of the star represents an aspect of the EMS System.
4) On Scene Care
5) Care In Transit
6) Transfer to Definitive Care