Star of Life

Star of LifeJust as physicians have the caduceus, emergency medical service personnel have the Star of Life. The six-barred cross represents the six system functions of emergency medical services: 

  • Care in Transit
  • Detecting
  • On Scene Care
  • Reporting
  • Response
  • Transfer to Definitive Care


The snake and the staff in the center of the star portray the staff of Asclepius who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Apollo, the god of light, truth, and prophecy. According to legend, Asclepius learned the art of healing from Cheron, the centaur. However, Zeus, king of the gods, was fearful that, with Asclepius' knowledge, men might be rendered immortal. Rather than have this occur, Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Asclepius was worshiped as a god and people slept in his temples, as it was rumored that, in death, he effected cures of prescribed remedies to the sick during their dreams. Asclepius is usually shown in a standing position, dressed in a long cloak, holding a staff with a serpent coiled around it. 

The staff has come to represent medicine's most recognized symbol. In the Caduceus, used by physicians, the staff is winged, with two serpents intertwined. Although it holds no known medical relevance, it represents the magic wand of the Greek deity, Hermes, the messenger of the gods. In Numbers 21:9, the Bible also refers to a serpent on a staff. "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived."

Emergency Care Symbol

On September 23, 1973, NHTSA adopted a symbol, which clearly and distinctively identifies emergency care within the total spectrum of the Emergency Medical Care System. The "Star of Life" had already been identified by the medical profession as a medical emergency symbol, and its use encouraged by the American Medical Association. On September 14, 1977, the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks issued to the Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Certificate of Registration Number 1,058,022, for the "Star of Life" symbol as a certification mark.

Wearing the Star of Life

Among other specifications, the memorandum to NHTSA stated that the Star of Life should be: On shoulder patches to be worn by personnel having satisfactorily completed any of the DOT training courses, or approved equivalent and that personnel who, by title and function, administer, directly supervise, or otherwise participate in all or part of a national, state, or community Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program or service in accordance with DOT criteria for Standard 11 which included the EMD. This included a specific color scheme for the Star of Life patch to be worn by emergency communications personnel once certified as an EMD.