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The History of the Pinning Ceremony: A Nursing School Tradition

Many colleges and universities continue this time-honored tradition, including online nursing programs.

Nurses make a difference in the lives of patients and the health of their communities, but becoming a nurse takes a lot of hard work. Nursing students need to acquire cutting-edge knowledge and advanced-practice skills to be effective on the front lines of patient care. This means a lot of dedication and hard work goes into earning a degree in nursing. For many, the culmination of this effort is the pinning ceremony. Many colleges and universities embrace this special nursing school tradition, which takes place in addition to graduation.

About the Nursing School Pin

The nursing pin has a long history, dating back more than 1,000 years to the 12th century crusades. During this violent time period, those who were devoted to caring for the injured and ill were given large Maltese crosses to wear on the battlefields. These crosses with equal-sized arms were large enough for all to see.*

However, it’s the legacy of the famed Florence Nightingale hundreds of years later that has influenced modern-day nursing school pinning ceremonies. Hospitals recognized Nightingale’s impact on the field of healthcare—particularly nursing—and began creating pinning programs beginning in the mid-1880s. Initially, only those nurses with exceptional marks and practice received pins, but that later expanded to a larger audience—including all nurses devoted to the welfare and well-being of society.*

By 1916, pinning ceremonies were common in the U.S. and England. Since then, colleges and universities have created their own pins as well as produced their own versions of the ceremony. While some have decided to forego the ceremony and pin altogether, many continue the time-honored tradition—including online nursing schools such as Walden University, which holds a pinning ceremony during its biannual commencements.

Usually a separate celebration from receiving a diploma, the pinning ceremony tends to be more intimate and involves new nursing graduates and their families as well as faculty members and other representatives from the school of nursing. Some ceremonies dictate that family members pin the new graduates, while others have nursing school faculty members place pins. Nevertheless, the pinning ceremony symbolizes the graduate’s achievement of completing the educational requirements and marks their transition into the profession.

Significance of Nursing School Pinning Ceremony

The pinning ceremony also signifies membership in a proud and loyal society of nurses. Nurses are an important part of the global healthcare workforce. According to the World Health Organization, of the estimated 43 million health workers around the world in 2015, nearly half were nurses or midwives. Nearly 3 million of them live in the U.S.§

Nurses provide critical healthcare services and are needed in all areas, including nonclinical positions such as consultants, educators, administrators, informatics specialists, and executives. Walden University’s RN to BSN program prepares students for a challenging yet rewarding career in nursing by teaching foundational nursing skills and building other skills such as leadership, case management, and health promotion. Walden offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral-level nursing programs online that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), a national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

*HCPro, In the Know: The History and Importance of the Pinning Ceremony, Stressed Out Nurses Weekly, on the internet at

†J. Early, The Nurse Pinning Tradition, Museum of Nursing History, on the internet at

‡World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Health Workforce, on the internet at

§Minority Nurse, Nursing Statistics, Minority Nurse, on the internet at

Walden University’s DNP, MSN, and BSN programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 530, Washington, D.C. 20036, 1-202-887-6791. CCNE is a national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate and graduate education programs. For students, accreditation signifies program innovation and continuous self-assessment.