opinion

The symbol for a new AMA: Medicine for the 21st century

The AMA's new logo is more than just a visually pleasing take on the Staff of Asclepius.

Posted June 20, 2005.

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Meet the American Medical Association's new logo, shown here for the first time in our online edition. It is a striking and modern public image for the organization. At the same time, it maintains a link with the rich history of the AMA and traditional symbols of the medical profession.

As it has for nearly a century, the AMA's symbol features the single snake of the Staff of Asclepius. The symbol dates to antiquity, and represents its namesake, the Greek god of healing. The image of a serpent-entwined staff also appears in the biblical book of Exodus, wherein Moses is instructed to erect a brass pole with a serpent; whoever looked upon it was healed.

A body of mythology surrounds Asclepius. He was taught about medicine by the centaur, Chiron, and became so skilled at healing that Zeus feared that the immortality of the gods was threatened.

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For many years the Staff of Asclepius has been confused with the caduceus, a symbol used by numerous medical organizations and that generally features two snakes encircling a rod topped with wings. According to most mythology, however, the caduceus represents the wand of the Greek god Hermes and often is associated with commercial endeavors.

The AMA's new symbol, proudly and distinctly bearing the Staff of Asclepius, represents many things that are good about the profession and its organization, not the least of which is continuity. Although the symbol has been associated with the AMA for nearly a century, both it -- and the Association it represents -- have evolved over time. The current iteration of the symbol pays homage to the past while conveying to the profession and to the public a clear, forceful message about the AMA's future.

The AMA has used several versions of the serpent and staff logo over the years and all of them tended toward literal interpretations. The new, more-stylized design remains clearly recognizable, while making a statement about the transformation of the AMA. It is inviting and unifying, and, most importantly, signals a new energy and vitality for the organization. Look for this revitalized symbol to play a major role in an upcoming campaign to reconnect America's physicians to their professional organization and America's patients to the essential role physicians play in their lives. Details will be announced at the AMA Annual Meeting this month.

One other important change to note: In the new AMA logo, purple replaces the previous teal. A combination of red (connoting energy) and blue (stability) is a powerful, arresting color that is also warm and welcoming: further, it suggests the nobility of medicine's ethics and standards. Again, the message is clear that the AMA is a vibrant organization and one clearly focused on the needs of future generations of patients and physicians.

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