Medical needs in the fictional world of film and television certainly entertain us. We have experienced the high drama of nursing at County General Hospital, All Saints Western General Hospital, Stanton House and the trenches of the Korean War. Hospital dramas and movies have been blessed by many memorable characters that are nurses. Some inspire us (true story: my hair style is inspired by Terri Sullivan the early years) while others infuriate us. Watching a medical drama, no matter the era in which it is set, we can all find faults. Unfortunately many patients often believe what they see on TV as being a true reflection of a hospital experience. If only! I remember explaining my first hospital placement to a friend via text a few days in: ‘It’s going well. It’s kind of like a bad episode of All Saints with a cast that didn’t fall out of a modelling magazine lol’. It’s the dramatic arc of many characters over the years, although fictional, which in my eyes shows some element of truth. These characters and their development show that the role of a nurse is challenging and demanding and can often mould the person that you become. So in tribute to some of the many nurses (fictional) that have graced our presence on screen, here is my list of top 10 female nurses characters in drama series and movies:
Abby Lockhart – ER (Maura Tierney) A dedicated, patient and passionate former medical student, Abby turned to nursing when she had to drop out of out of medical school. She later drops the RN for an MD when she completes her medical studies. She is well liked and respected by all staff. Why we love Abby: She has a very personable nature and is able to engage with her patients while maintaining a high clinical standard. She battles her own demons in dealing with a mother who has significant mental health issues and she herself is a recovering alcoholic. Perhaps due to these hardships in life, she conveys an understanding and empathy of her patients’ experiences.
Therese ‘Terri’ Sullivan – All Saints (Georgie Parker) Terri is the Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) on ward 17. A nun – hence a true ‘sister’ – she later leaves the sisterhood and finds love with a doctor! She is highly intelligent and very down to earth. When there is a difficult patient or challenging situation she is there to support her team. Why we love Terri: Any new nurse would enjoy her leadership on a ward; you can see yourself confessing your sins to this compassionate and caring nurse, while wanting to please her and (Cates first film debut). not let the team down.
Susan Macarthy – Paradise Road (Cate Blanchett) – based on a true story (movie). Susan is a member of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps captured by the Japanese Army during World War II. She is young and somewhat naïve yet shows leadership and integrity in challenging circumstances. What we can learn from Susan: Nursing is not a job, it’s who you are. Also, comradery can get you through the most dire events. (I highly recommend this film to anyone, as it is based on a true story and is Cate’s first feature film role)
Carol Hathaway – ER (Julianna Margulies) Nurse manager of the emergency room at Chicago’s County General Hospital, from the beginning of the series Carol struggles with her mental health issues, financial problems and later finds love in the handsome silver fox of Dr Doug Ross (George Clooney). What we can learn from Carol: Life has its ups and downs but Carol’s passion for nursing is strong. Not only can you find love at work, it’s acceptable to have your long curly hair out in the County ER!
Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan – M.A.S.H (Loretta Swit) Major Houlihan is a member of the Army Nurse Corps and in charge of all the nurses at the MASH 4077 unit. She is devoted to her army career, having been born into the tradition. She has the challenging job of serving in a remote army station though a very dangerous war. What makes Hot Lips so special: Her resilience in dealing with the constant jokes at her expense and being forced to endure the male orientated and dominated world of the army. Hot Lips was certainly someone who was a firecracker and we loved to watch her soften the brutality of war and keep the men on their toes. Her character was baised on a real nurse who served in the Korean War.
Matron Margaret ” Maggie” Sloan – A Country Practice (Joan Sydney) Maggie was the Matron of small medical practice in Wandin Valley. The rural country town is no stranger to drama and has many medical needs! Maggie is the no fuss, yet delicate nurse who shines through the adversity of remote medicine. What we can learn from Maggie: Every rural town needs a RN like Maggie to dig in and roll up their sleeves!
Bronwyn Craig – All Saints (Libby Tanner) Bron is a fun and loving nurse turned ambo, and later agency nurse, who’s father is a successful doctor. Her energy and compassion is engaging, her colleagues respect her and she also has a gambling addiction. Why we love Bron: Her clinical competence is balanced by her smile and charm meaning that she is liked and respected by her patients and colleagues. You know that a shift with Bron would be memorable to say the least.
Kitty Forman – That 70’s Show (Debra Jo Rupp) Kitty is a classic, dedicated and focused nurse and mother. Her passion for youth health care – and not doing drugs – is front and centre when the 70’s show gang are not falling off the water tower. What can we learn from Kitty: Every nurse needs a poker face and a sense of humour!
Yvonne ‘Von’ Ryan – All Saints (Judith McGrath) Von is an EN who later completes her studies to become a RN. Her mature and straight-laced character shows resilience in getting on with the job and not letting your emotions – or gossip – get in the way. What we can learn form Von: Having life experience is vital to the career as a nurse; we will all most likely have a nurse in our careers that remind us of her. You know you would hear her say ‘Stop the gossip and get on with the job!’
Matron Frances Bolton- Love Child (Mandy McElhinney) Frances is a strict, no-excuses matron who presides over Stanton House, a home for unwed pregnant young women. What we can learn from Frances: Getting down to business and working hard is what you are there for. And everyone has a past.
By Liz Coffey