Giving them a hand -- literally - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Giving them a hand -- literally

Hand medals

A close-up look at the hand medals

By David Walter
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Front-line health care workers at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center were given a hand recently – literally.

Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and medical support assistants working in the Emergency Department, Intensive Care and COVID units were presented with small pins, individually crafted by artisans, featuring a small metal hand.

These “hand medals” are the result of an initiative started in March to honor health-care workers tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

hand medals

More than 3,000 artists in 63 countries agreed to make the medals and have them donated. Each medal is stamped with a number that, when plugged into the website, tells the recipient who made the medal.

The Milwaukee VA received 93 medals via Andrea Boll, an art student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who is also a critical care registered nurse and a U.S. Army Veteran. Boll recently served with Milwaukee VA nurse Teri Davis when both took part in a COVID deployment in the spring.

“As the military is near to my heart, I wanted to reach out to my military co-workers who also work at the VA so their civilian counterparts can be the recipients of hand medals,” she wrote in a letter.

Boll and her fellow art students made the medals, based on a template provided by the Hand Medal Project. News reports show that the project has been picked up by several college art programs as well as individual artists and groups.

“I thought it was a nice gesture,” Boll said, who personally made 20 medals. “Everybody wanted to do something. We got a really positive response.”

The project was conceived by artists Iris Eichenberg and Jimena Rios, who set up a network to oversee the production and distribution. While some only made a handful of medals, others made hundreds.

ED hand medal

The website notes that in California, a woman and her friends made 450 medals to give to every staffer at Watsonville Community Hospital.

In all, more than 300 hospitals around the world received medals.

The medals are based on an Argentinian offering called an ex-voto, which is an offering of gratitude or devotion.

 “Authorship is secondary. The medals are not about the maker, but about the receiver,” the website states.

The medals “provide a physical testimony for both the unseen virus and invisible bravery of those who have fought it." 

"Hands themselves have been powerfully present in this battle. They are symbols not only of how our bodies have become weapons to be washed, sanitized and gloved, but also of their innate power to heal and to connect.”


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