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10 great novels featuring nurses

Nurse reading on bus

Luis Andrade Photography | gemenacom | istock | Scrubs

One great way to escape the pressures and stresses of nursing school or work is to read a great novel.

These literary works, featuring nurses and healthcare facilities, will provide you with a much-needed dose of fun and fantasy while reminding you why you chose the profession in the first place.

So if you want to reignite your passion for nursing or just spend a wonderful evening kicking back, check out one of these amazing novels.

  1. The English Patient
    by Michael Ondaatje.
    This prize-winning novel was made into a prize-winning movie, but that doesn’t mean the literary version still isn’t worth checking out. In it, readers will find a story about four entangled lives during the last weeks of WWII. At the center of the drama is the mysterious English patient, being cared for by nurse Hana, whose memories slowly reveal a tale of love, betrayal and redemption.
  2. A Farewell To Arms
    by Ernest Hemingway.
    If you’ve never read this literary classic, it’s never too late to start. Set in WWII, the story follows a young soldier named Henry, based loosely on Hemingway’s own wartime experiences. When he becomes injured, he finds himself falling for the elusive nurse Catherine, a complicated and tragic figure. If you’re looking for happy endings, this might not be a good choice, but if you want a moving portrayal of men and women coming to terms with life, both the good and the bad, then pick up this read.
  3. Outlander
    by Diana Gabaldon.
    This book is an incredibly popular read among nurses. Why? The main character, Claire Randall, is a nurse herself serving in the British Army during WWI. But this is no traditional novel, as it blends elements of fantasy, romance, historical fiction and legend to tell Claire’s tale. In it, the happily married Claire finds herself suddenly transported back in time, where she meets and falls in love with another man. Torn between her two loves and two centuries, Claire’s story is one of passion, pain and intrigue that’s sure to keep you reading page after page.
  4. The Thin White Line
    by Craig DiLouie.
    While the panic associated with avian and swine flu turned out to be overblown, the reality is that a pandemic illness could hit and wipe out entire communities at any time. This novel takes a look at what could and quite possibly would happen if such an epidemic were to hit Canada. It is a fascinating take on both the personal and political ramifications of such a disaster, and is a great read for any nurse with an interest in infectious disease.
  5. The Healer’s War
    by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.
    Drawing on her own experiences, Scarborough creates the fictional Kathleen McCulley in this novel, a nurse on a tour of duty at China Beach in Vietnam. McCulley must deal not only with healing the battle wounds of soldiers, but her ambivalence toward the enemy, the racism of her charges and her own personal battles. While the novel is set on the field of battle, nurses in any profession will recognize the courage it takes to keep it together in such a stressful situation.
  6. The Glory Cloak: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton
    by Patricia O’Brien.
    If you were inspired to become a nurse by historical greats like Clara Barton, you’ll love this fictional take on her life and work that unites her with the author of the classic novel Little Women. The story follows Alcott and her fictional cousin Susan as they help join the war effort by becoming nurses, encountering the battlefield legend Barton in the process. Blending love, history, friendship and betrayal, the novel is at once engrossing and enlightening about life and work during the turn of the century.
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Penguin Classics)
    by Ken Kesey.
    Think you’ve got a real piece of work for a coworker? He or she is likely nothing compared to the tyrannical Nurse Ratched in this classic novel. Kesey’s portrayal of a fictional insane asylum garnered him international acclaim and numerous awards, and the book is still worth a read today. The story centers on Patrick McMurphy, a mental patient who antagonizes his nurse and upsets the daily routine of the other patients, but not without just cause. It is a frank look at the state of institutional care and a must-read for anyone working in psychiatric nursing.
  8. My Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel
    by Robin Oliveira.
    A young midwife leaves home during the Civil War to seek the medical experience she wants in order to help her become a doctor. Readers will find that she gets what she wished for, with vivid descriptions of medical treatments common at the time that would seem like torture or mutilation today, showing just how far we’ve come with medical advancements.
  9. Cherry Ames Boxed Set (Books 1-4) Student Nurse, Senior Nurse, Army Nurse & Chief Nurse
    by Helen Wells.
    This collection of novels was geared toward young girls when it came out in the ’40s through the ’60s and was meant to inspire them to a career in nursing. The young girl at the center of the stories is a student nurse at first, but later becomes a full-fledged professional, all while she solves mysteries, stands up for herself and is a fully independent woman. The novels are surprisingly feminist for their early publication date, and while they contain some nursing stereotypes, are still fun, inspiring and entertaining reads for anyone working in the field.
  10. No Other Medicine: Inside View of Corporate Healthcare Corruption in Hospitals
    by Gail Ghingna Hallas, RN, PhD.
    Titled after the quote “the miserable have no other medicine but hope,” this book takes a harsh look at the corruption, ineptitude and downright cruelty that can take place in the medical profession. The author is a nurse herself, which helped her create a nice variety of fictional characters that are richly developed and true to life. While the story was written in the early ’70s, many nurses will sadly recognize that many of the issues she addresses are still prevalent in hospitals across the nation. A riveting, compelling (though depressing) novel, it’s a great read for anyone with a passion for healthcare and patient rights.

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9 Responses to 10 great novels featuring nurses

  1. For an inspirational read try, NURSES BEYOND BORDERS. Endorsed by Greg Mortenson of “Three Cups of Tea” fame, it’s a fabulous collection of 25 stories written by real nurses.

  2. For an inspirational read try, NURSES BEYOND BORDERS. Endorsed by Greg Mortenson of “Three Cups of Tea” fame, it’s a fabulous collection of 25 stories written by real nurses.

  3. Lorrie Tate

    Another is “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.” I had to read this book in my Transcultural Nursing class for my MSN. Every healthcare worker should be required to read this book.

  4. Nurse Rene RN

    I gave a copy of ‘Chicken Soup for the Nurses’ Soul’ to a colleague who had been bullied and was leaving our unit for a different job in a larger hospital. She told me later that it was a very therapeutic and cleansing experience to read through the book as there are stories which made her both laugh and cry.

  5. delacy54 RN

    Any books by Tilda Shalof, a Canadian nurse who writes about her experiences as an ICU nurse and camp nurse. She has at least four books. published. Also any titles by Echo Heron.

  6. renee0270

    Ditto Echo Heron, and if you’re going to list Cherry Ames, you have *got* to include the Sue Barton books!

  7. jack

    Read under the Tuscan sun, its great like traveling to Tuscany from your chair. Try The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor, about nurse in 1900’s who worked for a physician who performed abortions. And of course anything by Steven King.

  8. Charley White

    6/10 are about nurses in the army, wars, or battles. Are there any other good nursing books and novels not related to such things?

  9. danilj1980

    Bedpan Commando: The Story of a Combat Nurse During World War II by June Wandrey was published in 1989 and is the compilation of diary, notes and letters written from the midst of the war. It is the absolutely amazing account of this surgical nurse serving in Field Hospitals in Europe and Africa and towards the end of the war she served and cared for inmates at two of the concentration camps. She earned 7 major battle stars. She was very active in helping establish the Woman’s Memorial in Washington DC in 1997.