Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Famous Nurses

By Susan Carlisle

One of my very best friends, Pam is a nurse and she has just earned her Ph.d in Nursing. She’s now a full-fledged college professor teaching the nurses of tomorrow. I’m not sure I’ll be able to call her Dr. D but I’m super proud of her. I asked her when she called to tell me that she had successfully defended her dicertation if the committee had told her she was the next Einstein of nursing, or if they thought she would save the world. With a laugh in her voice she responded, “Something like that.”

With my friend joining the ranks of the famous nurses of the world, at least for me, it got me to thinking about other outstanding nurses.

There is Florence Nightingale who is considered to be the founder of the modern nursing profession. She was known for her compassion and commitment to patients. She more than earned her spot in the famous section.

How about Clara Barton? She’s best known for organizing the American Red Cross. Not a shabby way to join Florence in the to be remembered group.

What about Margaret Houlihan on the TV show M.A.S.H.? Maybe she didn’t offer near as much to the world as the ladies above but she’s certainly memorable. One thing I remember about her that above all, no matter what she was doing or having done to her, she was above all a good first.

Little known fact, Walt Whitman and Mary Lincoln Todd were both nurses.

Can you think of any famous nurses to add to my list?


26 thoughts on “Famous Nurses”

  1. Can you think of any famous nurses to add to my list?
    Or a better question to ask might be–Can you think of any great nurse to add to the list?
    Then I would say, if you are a nurse look in the mirror and add your own name to the list. 😉

  2. Can’t think of any famous nurses to add to the list but my sister is a nurse. Ever since she was a teen she knew she wanted to be a nurse. So as soon as she finished high school she moved to Toronto for further schooling and now 28 years later she continues her career at the same hospital

  3. Susan, I do have another great fiction nurse for you – Colleen McMurphy in China Beach. Played by Dana Delaney who I might add is now playing a terrific role as forensic pathologist Megan Hunt in Body of Proof! but that’s another blog topic! LOL

    Congratulations to your friend! That’s a fantastic achievement.

  4. Edith Cavell, who was born in Norfolk in 1865, and was killed in 1915. She started training to be a nurse when she was twenty, and eventually became the matron of a hospital in Belgium. When the First World War broke out she stayed in Belgium even though it was under German occupation, and treated many captured Allied soldiers. She also helped many of them to escape, and because of that was arrested by the Germans in 1915 and shot. Very brave and dedicated lady.
    Maggie Kingsley

    1. Maggie,
      Thanks for sharing about Edith Cavell. I hadn’t heard of her. Interesting. I does take a strong and special person to do what she did.

  5. One nurse who was famous in her lifetime and then largely forgotten is Mary Seacole. Born in Jamaica in 1805, she was taught herbal remedies and basic care by her mother. After helping to fight cholera epidemics in Jamaica and Panama, she travelled to England and, unable to secure a post as an Army Nurse, used her own money to travel to the Crimea. She ran a business there, the British Hotel, which financed the medical treatment that she gave to soldiers. Going to the battlefield to treat her patients, she was often under fire and on several occasions was found treating wounded men from both sides. She was much loved by the soldiers, who called her ‘Mother Seacole’. She is now being given the recognition that she deserves once more, not just for her bravery and medical skills, but for her determination to succeed despite the racial prejudice that she encountered.

    And as for the fictional nurses – how about Nurse Chapel from Star Trek, who managed to wear that tiny skirt, deal with grumpy Dr McCoy and still smile! How did she do that?

    1. Wow. Thanks for sharing about Mary Seacole. Such great information. She certainly deserves to be considered famous. Amazing lady! Thanks for sharing.
      I had not thought about Nurse Chapel. She was good.

  6. Hi everyone. My friend Susan and I go way back. In my opinion, she has qualified as a nurse. I have seen her do things I wouldn’t be able to do as she cared for her son Nic. I am proud to call her friend.
    As far as Mary Seacole, my students and I will be traveling to Varna, Bulgaria in May. This is one “stopping place” (as it is on the Black Sea across from the Crimea) for Mary Seacole and the students will learn of her contributions to nursing. Her herbs and receipes are displayed in the Florence Nightingale museum in London. Although she did interview with Florence for a position on ther team of nurses in the Crimea, she was not accepted. Books say probably because of her color and her use of remedies which included alcohol. 🙂 Probably the men who had tramatic amputations would not have minded using her remedies.
    Pam Dunagan (friend with the new PhD)

    1. Thanks for sharing Pam with the new PhD. I’m glad to know that you are so up on history. I hope to travel to see where Mary Seacole worked with you sometime soon.

    2. Congratuations, Pam. Thank you for the information about Mary Seacole’s herbs and recipes in the Florence Nightingale Museum – London is my home, so I’ll definitely be going there to see them soon!

  7. There’s a very famous nurse here in Australia known affectionately as Sr Kenny but unfortunately she is largely unknown. She was a “bush” nurse who used “radical” treatment on polio patients. Her findings ran counter to conventional medical wisdom – she pushed the need to exercise muscles affected by polio instead of immobilizing them. She is credited as the “founder” of physiotherapy as her teachings formed the basis for this modern and vital discipline!

  8. Amy,
    I had not heard about Sr Kenny. I am truly being educated today. I visited Australia a number of years ago and enjoyed the museum about the flying medical people that worked in the bush.

  9. I cheated and found this information about Clara Barton’s great-aunt.
    Martha Ballard (1734 – 1812): was a midwife who worked to help mothers and babies, and is known for keeping a good diary of her medical practice as she went around by canoe or horse in what later became Maine.
    This is cutting edge nursing, isn’t it?

  10. Honey, you really missed an obvious one. St. Benedict (Benedict of Nursia), yes Benedictine monks… Monte Cassino, Italy. Yes, it always goes back to WWII! lol.

  11. Susan, what a great blog post. All the nurses I’ve ever dealt with have been caring and compassionate. While having an unpleasant procedure done a while back, the nurse standing next to me put her hand on my arm, letting me know she was there. It provided just the bit of human contact I needed at that moment, and I appreciated it so much. Nurses are irreplaceable and underappreciated.

    Congratulations to your friend. What an awesome accomplishment!

    1. Tina,
      Thanks for stopping in. I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times a nurse was there when I needed her/him. They do what I couldn’t.

  12. I can’t remember that many other famous named nurses either. However there are many nameless nurses who have made the profession famous. I think of the nurses I work with everyday and all that they do for their patients. I also applaud those nurses who work up north and other isolated places without a physician except on the other end of a radio or telephone, the nurse educators at the universities teaching the next generation, the nurses who have gone out of their way to help the poor, the homeless and the destitute or who have gone overseas to the developing world with organizations like Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) and the nurses from the past who went to war and served their country by caring for the soldiers at risk to themselves. Nursing is a selfless profession, we need to applaud all the unnamed nurses who are helping others not looking for fame.

  13. Linda,
    I couldn’t have said it better.
    I do have a few other famous nurses but from the moving pictures.
    Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest”
    Penelope Cruz as the nurse in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
    Juliette Binoche as the nurse to Ray Fiennes in “The English Patient”
    Oldie but super good movie “The Nun’s Story” with Audrey Hepburn

  14. Nurses are some of the strongest women I know–one of the earliest professions for the ‘weaker sex’ . Nurses have done so much to improve the lot of women, not only in health care, but in living in general. All of you nurses have my greatest admiration!

  15. Hi there,

    Here are some other famous people who were nurses.

    Amelia Earhart (Pioneering Aviator)
    Agatha Christie (Crime Writer Extraodinaire)
    Paul Brandt (Country and Western Superstar)
    Janet Jagen (First president of Guyana)
    Jo Brandt (English Comic)
    Elizabeth Jolly (Much loved Australian Author)
    Alberta Hunter (Blues Legend)

    You can read all about their stories at my blog Critical Care – Reflections of a Male Nurse.

    If you click on the tab “Famous but Forgotten” all their profiles will pop up. Enjoy reading. There are some amazing women here, and some amazing stories.

    Best wishes


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