Top 10 Nurses in Pop Culture

By Emily Thomas

The health care profession enjoys a lot of attention in pop culture, from real life figures to movies to books to Halloween costumes. In this list, we’ll reveal some of the most famous nurses in pop culture, including historical figures, beloved TV characters, and more. Whether you’re a nurse who needs a little inspiration or commiseration, or just a fan of nursing who respects the industry, you’ll learn a lot about the history of nursing and nursing culture from these figures.

  1. Florence Nightingale: Florence Nightingale is often referred to as the mother of nursing or the founder of modern nursing. "The Lady with the Lamp" entered the field of nursing in 1845, even though her upper-class British family disapproved. During the Crimean War, Nightingale lobbied the British government on behalf of the terrible hospital conditions for wounded soldiers in Turkey. She was considered one of the most famous Britains at that time and ultimately founded what is now called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College in London.
  2. Clara Burton: Clara Barton, an American nurse and teacher, is credited with organizing the American Red Cross. Barton became interested in nursing as a child and organized a medical supplies agency after the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. During the war, Barton traveled behind enemy lines to work as a battlefield nurse. She founded the American Red Cross in 1881.
  3. Nurse Carol Hathaway: Julianna Margulies played Nurse Carol Hathaway on the long-running NBC drama ER for six years. The dark-haired nurse was a modern, practical yet compassionate woman who was the on-again, off-again love interest of Dr. Doug Ross, played by George Clooney.
  4. Nurse Ratched: The fictional but iconic Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a frightening, seemingly omniscient and omnipotent caregiver who was famously played by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 movie version. Fletcher won an Academy Award for her role as Nurse Ratched, who inspires violent sabotage and revenge in her patients.
  5. Major Margaret J. "Hotlips" Houlihan: "Hotlips" Houlihan was the strict but passionate head nurse on the iconic TV series M*A*S*H. The sexy blonde is actually modeled after real-life Korean War head nurse Hotlips Hammerly and was played by Sally Kellerman in the film version, and Loretta Swit on the TV show.
  6. Gaylord Focker: Ben Stiller’s male nurse character Gaylor Focker in Meet the Parents is a hysterical but luckless guy who constantly has to shrug off Robert DeNiro’s sarcastic, insulting jokes about male nurses. The film won several awards including a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Motion Picture, and spawned a sequel, Meet the Fockers.
  7. Edith Shain: Not many people recognize the name Edith Shain, but she’s the young nurse caught kissing a WWII American sailor during V-J Day in Times Square. The famous photograph was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 14, 1945 and was originally published in Life magazine. It is today one of the most beloved and recognizable images from that era.
  8. Catherine Barkley: Fictional nurse Catherine Barkley is the love interest in Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel A Farewell to Arms, first published in 1929. The story is considered to be a semi-autobiographical account of Hemingway’s service in Italy during WWI. Barkley is thought by literary critics to represent Hemingway’s idea of the perfect woman, and their intense, passionate relationship is regarded as one of the most romantic love stories in modern literature.
  9. Nurse Helen Rosenthal: St. Elsewhere was an immensely popular NBC television drama that ran for six years during the 1980s. Nurse Helen Rosenthal, played by Christina Pickles, was the head nurse who battled a faulty computer system and had a penchant for divorcing men. (She was divorced four times.) Christina Pickles was nominated for four Emmys for playing Nurse Helen Rosenthal.
  10. Nurse Carla Espinosa: Carla is the feisty, fast-talking, sensible nurse on Scrubs, the TV show that launched the career of Zach Braff. Carla was born in the Dominican Republic and is head nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital in Chicago and is married to Turk on the show.

 

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