Nursing Pinning Ceremony: A Rite-of-Passage for Graduates

Imagine a large room full of hundreds of people with happy tears in their eyes all rooting for someone who spent the last year completely dedicated to earning their nursing degree?

These emotional families and friends are at a pinning ceremony where newly-graduated nursing students are presented with a special nursing pin from their college’s faculty as they are welcomed into the nursing profession.

“We want to give them the ultimate sendoff,” said Bill Hartman, MSN, RN, Nursing Dean at the Rasmussen College Green Bay Campus.

What Does a Nursing Pinning Ceremony Entail?

Before the day of the ceremony, students are asked to choose a significant person in their life to dedicate their pin to. This person could be a faculty member, a parent, a friend – anyone that has had a significant impact on their life and their education, Hartman said.

On the day of the ceremony, the person of significance accompanies the graduate on stage. A faculty member hands that person a pin, and they in turn place the pin on the graduate to show they have accepted the graduate’s dedication. During the process, a faculty member will read the dedication from the student to the special person(s), which is typically a very emotional portion of the ceremony.

Then, candles are lit and the recent graduates honor Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, and vow to carry her ideals as they move forward in their careers by reciting the International Council of Nurses Pledge.

“During and after the ceremony, graduates should feel amazing, in awe even,” said Hartman. “The ceremony must be done in the right light. It’s not a show; there is a deep meaning behind it that will live on in them. The pinning ceremony may be more meaningful to the graduate than their graduation because it is a true testament to their profession.”

History of the Pinning Ceremony

Historians can actually trace the tradition back to the Crusades of the 12th Century, when the group of knights (Knights Hospitaller) tended to and cared for the injured and suffering crusaders. When new monks were brought into the Knights Order, they decided to continue helping sick soldiers and held a ceremony where each monk was given a Maltese cross that they wore on their arms.

Fast forward to the 1860’s, when Florence Nightingale was honored with the Red Cross of St. George for her selfless efforts to injured men during the Crimean War. Because she believed in acknowledging a job well done, she presented a medal of excellence to her hardest working nursing graduates. However, by 1916 it became standard in the U.S. to no longer award only a few nurses with a medal of excellence, but instead all nursing graduates with a pin during a special ceremony. The pin was provided by the hospital school of nursing to the students to identify them as nurses and show proof of their education.

“The nursing pin has been both literally and symbolically a cross to bear, a medal and a badge,” Hartman said.

“It is a cross to bear to show a nurse’s dedication to their patients by staying back and caring for those patients “long after others have given up hope and gone home”; a medal of honor for the respect nurses have for both the “miracle of life and finality of death,” and a badge of courage for everything nurses do and represent on “the front lines, fighting death and disease, [and] doing so with courage and commitment,” said Hartman. 

Is the End of Pinning Ceremonies Drawing Near?

There are schools throughout the nation that have decided to forgo the pinning ceremony, calling it out-of-date and unnecessary. Some schools have done away with it completely, and others have their nursing students raise money, plan and carry out the ceremony all on their own.

However, Hartman feels that taking that rite-of-passage away from nursing graduates is shameful.

Nursing is a combination of arts and science, he said. The art side is when nurses are caring for the patients with compassion and understanding, and the science side of nursing is the use of technology in the profession. What is happening is schools have gotten lost in the imbalance of the arts and science of nursing, according to Hartman.

“Yes, there may be a science side to it, but what drives people to become a nurse?” Hartman asked. “It’s the history, the tradition, the meaning. Patients don’t want a scientist at their side; they want someone caring to look after them, which is the art side of nursing.”

Hartman  thinks some schools today are so fixated on the science and technology aspect that they are failing to realize the importance of providing comfort and friendship to patients.

“The pin is the one symbol that ties the art and science together,” said Hartman “It says, ‘I understand where I came from, and now I’m going to use the science to do best for my patients’”.

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Jennifer is a Content and Social Media Specialist at Rasmussen College. She researches, writes and edits blog posts designed to help and inspire current, past and future students through their entire educational process in an effort to encourage learning at a college level and beyond.

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