5 Most Memorable Nurses in Cinema


When we think of the medical profession on the big screen, we typically think of doctors. Movies like Patch Adams show doctors interacting with patients and learn more about them, but as any nurse will tell you, it is typically the nurses who end up making the biggest impression. While there are fewer movies featuring nurses than doctors as primary focuses, the truth of the matter is that there are some real gems out there. Consider some of the most famous nurses that have ever graced the big screen.

Nurse Ratched: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

When it comes to nurses in film, it would be ridiculous to skip over the terrifying figure of Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched is the nemesis of the free-spirited McMurphy, and man who lands in a psych ward because he would rather be there than in prison. Nurse Ratched is the almost cartoonishly evil, but always menacing authority figure of the film, and throughout it, she represents the power of the faceless state. Not all depictions of nurses in films are positive, and this is one of the darkest slants on the nursing profession in cinema.

Briony Tallis: Atonement

Atonement is a film that explores themes of guilt and redemption, and it does it through the eyes of the narrator, Briony Tallis. Briony commits a great wrong against her sister and the man her sister loves, and because of that, she seeks her redemption through service as a nurse during the second World War. The movie gives us a view of the courage required to be a war time nurse, though it does not focus enough attention on the technical skills that nursing requires. Some of the interesting moments involve Briony’s training in London and the presence of nurses as being some of the most important medical personnel during the war.

Belize: Angels in America

Angels in America features the story of two men dying of AIDS. Set during the 1980s, when AIDS was not well-understood, this movie explores themes of homophobia and conservative brutality. Belize is the friend of one of the dying men, and he works as an AIDS nurse. Through the movie, he must deal with the invective and abuse of the other dying man, the homophobic Roy Cohn. This movie focuses on the roles of nurses during the AIDS crisis, and Belize himself is one of the strongest positive characters in the work. During the movie, we see him manage his friendship and his work with considerable competence, all the while displaying flashes of bitterness and anger that humanize him as well.

Greg Focker: Meet the Parents

Greg Focker is the main character in the Meet the Parents, and one of the questions that he must answer is whether nursing is an appropriate field for men. While the question itself is ridiculous, the movie does address one of the stereotypes of the nursing profession. Throughout the movie, Greg explains why he finds nursing to be a fulfilling career, why it is important work in the medical field in general, and what this means to him in general.

Catherine Barkle: A Farewell to Arms

In the classic romance movie, A Farewell to Arms, Catherine Barkle is a British nurse employed on the front during World War I. She falls in love with the American ambulance driver, Frederic Henry. Though Catherine is one of the most memorable nurses in cinema, it cannot be said that she accurate represents the profession. Throughout the movie, nurses are restricted to tasks like food dispersal, laundry and hand-holding; no mention is made of the real medical knowledge that nurses of any time period need to have.

Viv Baker is a registered nurse and contributor at The Nurse Lady, an entertaining site with stories and helpful tips from real nurses.

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