Symbolism in Medicine

There was a project at I used to partake in whereby any medical students were invited to contribute something to write there. Sadly,it’s now defunct due to lack of support,unsurprisingly, considering the fact medical students have much to learn about medicine, getting to know hot nursing trainees while trying not to waste their youth away just on books and books. Very busy one, at peak period probably ala pre-exam period, we probably try to pen down the 10 side effects of Captopril on the toilet paper while we are doing our business. Ok, I was exaggerating a little bit but you get the point.

Before,it was closed, I managed to backup the few light-hearted banters I have written there under a new category “Med Talk”. Thus,I guess I shall post them here. Haiyah..Okokok…I too lazy to write an update here. Happy now?


I was popped a question a few years ago by a friend of mine who studied law. Why is the symbol of medicine is represented by a snake and a rod?
Staff of AsklepiosWHO

Remembering that question,with a bit of spare time in hand,I did some googling and found some interesting facts on it at our neighbourhood friendly Wiki. This rod is called the Rod/Staff of Asklepios. Who is this Asklepios guy?Well, this guy was probably the first doctor in this world,if going by the Greek mythology. He was a brilliant surgeon and healer, able to resurrect the dead without using the defib and etc.He was said to be so good that I think he probably would not have to go through the careful scrubbing that modern surgeons before going into theatre.He seem to have quite a number of conflicts within his family.You can read it here.In the end,he was struck by a lightning and died,probably due to fact that he was staying too high up in the sky.

However,I couldn’t find much information on why a snake and a rod was chosen as a symbol.Maybe that was how his weapon/equipment look like.If I am to speculate here,well,the snake was probably chosen as a symbol of poison,just like modern drugs,if taken beyond recommended dose,they act like a poison,doing more harm than good.There is probably no drug in this world that is without any side effect.

Interestingly,you guys would probably have seen this picture before,


A symbol of modern medicine perhaps?


No,it is a symbol of commerce.Double (headed) snake.Says a lot about the doctor huh?Hehe.

P.S. None of the medical students are required to take Greek mythology as part of their subjects at any time of their training.If he/she knows and tell you the whole story behind it,please verify that he/she graduated with an MBBS,not a doctorate in Greek mythology.

Now I am still waiting for an answer from my law friend.Is the scale perfectly balanced between the two weights?I remembered seeing them slanting towards one side from TV shows. What is the scale balancing?Right vs Wrong?Guilty vs Innocent?If it is,does that mean,for each person who walk out guilty,there will be another walking out not guilty?

The scale reminds me of certain political party.If it is again perfectly balanced between right and wrong,truth and lies,you would have a 50-50 chance of knowing whether they are either.You might increase your chances of getting right like this

“Now…now,John,how much you say you were drinking again?”

Just some random craps to relieve a bit of boredom.

Thank you.

3 Replies to “Symbolism in Medicine”

  1. I dunno about the significance of the rod in Greek mythology, but I’ve heard someone say that it may have come from the bible? In the book of Numbers in the bible, when the Israelites were still in the desert, there was a punishment from God, such that there were poisonous snakes that bit them. As an ‘antidote’ Moses was instructed by God to construct an image of a snake on a pole, and everyone who looked at the image lived/survived the poison. I’m paraphrasing of course and I’m not sure if thats the origin of the image used in medicine, but its interesting to note.

  2. Out of curiousity, I went to look for the said line in the Bible I have. It was in Numbers 21:8 and 21:9

    I quote:

    The Lord said to Moses,”Make a snake and put it on a pole ; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.

    So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake,he lived.

    Interesting point you brought up there,Adrian.

  3. Yeah, I was gonna say the Bible thing, too. Adrian beat me to it.

    Eh, I cannot tahan this cranial nerve questionlah. Commenting on your blog makes me feel d*mned stupid every single time, because I really have to think to remember 😛