While rummaging through the attic recently, I came upon my nurse’s cap. Now more than 40 years old, it had become a bit yellow and misshapen. As I held it in my hands, I felt a nostalgic smile cross my lips and was flooded with memories of what that cap had meant to me over the years.
I attended a three-year, hospital-based, diploma nursing program. As freshman students, we wore our school uniform but no cap, so we were easily identifiable as plebes. Those of us who survived that first rigorous year “earned” our cap and were presented with one at a capping ceremony. When I donned the cap, it was official: I felt like a real nurse.
At the end of our second year, we received a half stripe to designate our progression in the program and identify us as second-year nursing students. We affixed it to our cap mid way, continuing to one side. It was a status symbol, and it reminded each of us that there was a light (and a full stripe) at the end of the tunnel. I still get goose bumps recalling what it felt like to place that full stripe on my cap at graduation. That narrow piece of ribbon—and that cap—meant the world to me. It represented where I had been, what I had accomplished, and where I was going. It symbolized a dream come true.
I remember the ritual of washing our caps. The other nursing students and I would undo the folds (held together by a plastic grommet) and carefully, and lovingly, bleach and starch it in our dormitory room sink. Then we did the all-important “shaping” so it dried just right. My school cap was of the more traditional design. It had a boxy center and wing-like appendages off to the back when in its original form. But at my school, it was in vogue to get those wings to stick out to the side as much as possible, creating what resembled a crescent – the wider the better! To achieve this look, we rolled up a pair of white gym socks and inserted them behind the wings so they would dry in just the right shape. We had this procedure honed to a fine art form!
For those of you newer to the profession, each school had/has a distinct cap. You came to recognize those from the more prominent schools in your area. Interestingly, there is a nurse artist who paints caps to preserve the images and the memory.
I always felt proud to wear that cap. When I walked (or ran) down the hall in any healthcare facility, everyone immediately knew I was a nurse. The cap is a symbol that still represents the profession today.
Even though nurses don’t wear caps anymore (although there are a few holdouts), some schools of nursing still have pinning/capping ceremonies because the female graduates crave that iconic representation even if they won’t get to wear the cap at work. Many female new nurse graduates even have their graduation pictures taken with caps on their heads. It is a symbol that still evokes an emotional response from many.
I certainly understand why nurse’s caps have been relegated to attics, history books, and vintage photos, but I am proud and happy that I had the privilege and opportunity to wear that cap for so many years.
Feel free to share your “cap” stories here. I, for one, would love to hear them!