Universal Symbols in Healthcare

What would you do if you were sick or injured in a country where you didn’t speak the language, but needed to find a doctor or hospital?

What would you do if you had limited literacy and were unable to read written signs within a healthcare facility or hospital?

How can you tell at a glance where an eyewash station is in case of an emergency in a biological testing laboratory?

While we may not be consciously aware of it, we associate certain symbols with certain things and it’s not by accident. There are universal symbols within the healthcare industry; a cross typically indicates medical attention is available in that location, a bracelet with the rod of Asclepius engraved upon it is recognised across forty different countries as a MedicAlert bracelet indicating the patient has an existing medical condition, the silhouette of a woman in a dress, wearing a cap with a cross on it indicates a nurse is available.

These graphics or symbols were designed to provide important information, in the simplest way possible and regardless of the level of literacy or potential language barriers of the individual viewing them.

Here are some of the most common symbols within the healthcare industry:

Rod of Asclepius

The rod of Asclepius is universally recognised as the symbol for medicine. It also features on MedicAlert bracelets. The bracelets are recognised across forty countries and used by over four million people.


The cross is often used to show the location of emergency care. For example, hospitals or first aid.  The cross is also the symbol for the humanitarian agency Red Cross.


Author: Rebecca Millar

Rebecca is a freelance PR and Communications Specialist, Author, Science Writer, and Star Trek fan with a fondness for caffeine and all things geek. When she's not getting her comms specialist on, she's usually introverting Trekkie style, studying her Masters in Astronomy, or at her local fire brigade where she volunteers as a firefighter.

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