10 Great Novels Featuring Nurses

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Any suggestions on novels featuring nurses that we left out?  Please add your recommendations to the comments section below!

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult. Story of an African American L & D nurse (in the 30’s???). Just started it.

  2. I recently read “Fire By Night” about a young woman who becomes a nurse during the Civil War. It is written by Lynn Austin. It was great!

  3. Sue Barton as a home health nurse helped me to give home health a chance My first inspiration to be a nurse was Cherry Ames; I still have and reread some Cherry Ames and Sue Barton books

  4. What about all of the Sue Barton books? Sue goes from a student to a mom with kids who still works as a nurse. She was my inspiration growing up. 🙂



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