I recently attended Olivia's nursing pinning ceremony, the woman I wrote about in my February 2022 editorial. This rite of passage celebrates the successful culmination of the challenging educational journey to become a nurse. Achieving this milestone inspires feelings of pride and accomplishment. The event had been on hold since 2019 due to COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings. To make up for lost time, the college's nursing faculty afforded recent nursing graduates the opportunity to receive their pins in the long-awaited ceremony that fate had denied them. Most were now practicing RNs who weathered some of the toughest pandemic years. To my pleasant surprise, a large number returned to participate. More surprising, however, was what the graduates wore for the ceremony: white nursing uniforms, white shoes, and nurse's caps. They carried ceramic “Nightingale” lamps and white candles. The effect was stunning.
I experienced an existential moment – seeing so many nurses wear caps transported me to bygone times. Decades ago as a student nurse, I had to wear a cap for one clinical rotation at a rural hospital. Though I never wore a cap again, this pinning ceremony induced a sudden sense of nostalgia for my brief relationship with a relic of nursing antiquity. I vividly recall my nursing instructors passionately proclaiming, “It's not what's on a nurse's head, but what's in it that counts.” They railed against the cap as emblematic of the nurse as a handmaiden. Their convictions were forged in an era when nurses finally jettisoned the cap and broke through many longstanding barriers that stood in the way of achieving potential.
Reflecting on the dichotomy of my instructors' words and the caps worn at this pinning ceremony, my instructors were right on target, but so is a school's tradition of inviting graduates to wear caps for pinning. The cap remains a powerful nursing icon that dates to Florence Nightingale. It is a symbol that is uniquely ours, whether or not a nurse has ever worn one. We have come far since Nightingale's time through our collective strength, but we still formally recognize and honor her legacy to our profession. As I stood with the graduates and all nurses present at the ceremony, we recited the traditional Nightingale Pledge together. Like the symbolic cap, this ritual of belonging bonds us to those who came before and each who will subsequently follow.
P.S. I still have my cap.
Until next time,
LINDA LASKOWSKI-JONES, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, NEA-BC, FAWM, FAAN