Ode to My Nursing Cap

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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!

4 thoughts on “Ode to My Nursing Cap”

  1. I loved your nursing cap story, sadly mine is not as happy as yours. I made my way through nursing school and graduated in Aug of 2011. For graduation (or pinning as they call it at our school) we were asked to wear white scrub sets in honor of the traditional white that has been the iconic uniform of nurses. I have always love the tradition of a nursing cap and the stories I have heard through school from instructors and mentors who remember when caps were more than just a funny hat. Wanting to honor that tradition I purchased a nursing cap from a uniform store and proudly wore it to graduation.

    All my classmates and a number of instructors were so positive and loved they idea. We took pictures and laughed and were proud to be graduating RN’s until a voice called out.
    “Those aren’t allowed here, you will need to take it off”
    Everyone turned to see the program director pointing her finger distastefully at my head. My instructors protested saying it was a sweet, my classmated voiced that they loved it.
    “We don’t do caps here, IT needs to go.”
    Not wanting to cause a fuss I removed the cap and held it on my lap for the ceremony.

    I will never forget my graduation day, when my programs director showed me how much she cared for the tradition and history of our profession

  2. I also have found my cap, 25 years ago this symbol was placed upon my head, my dream come true and still is to this day. My cap went with me everyday i worked for a good many years, now looking a bit yellow she still holds my dreams and a great deal of pride. I will be wearing her again on career day at the school. Wearing it proudly

  3. Came across randomly while googling what a nurseshat was called, had asked hubby as his Mum was a Ward Sister 70s and 80s, he remembers that she had 6, all in different stages of starching, in readiness for the week ahead, a new one everyday.

  4. Loved the nursing cap story. I still have mine after 30 years!
    Now an instructor at St. Anselm College and was very pleased when at pinning this year all the young ladies wore the same white uniform dress and all had a cap on. When asked they stated that the caps were handmade from a priests white clerical collar and they had a black band. I thought they looked very professional and got goosebumps as they recited the Nightingale pledge. Brought back nice memories

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