During any doctor or hospital visit, nurses can be found everywhere and are often more likely to spend more time with the patients than the doctors themselves. However, this was not so 100 years ago. Since even before then, there has always been the need for caring and compassionate nurses, and there are many nurses who have risen to fill that void. However, with the success of nurse and doctor themed films and television programs, nurses can suffer in the gap from perception to reality.
To help illustrate this – and hopefully clear up a few misconceptions – we have listed the 15 best movies about nursing. From the documentary of actual nurses to the far spun tales of nurses gone wrong, they feature both the best and worst in nursing. You can also watch a few of them to learn the history of nursing in addition to being entertained.
- Florence Nightingale
A made for television film, it follows Jaclyn Smith as Florence Nightingale and shows how the Lady with the Lamp became one of the most important advocates for sanitation and cleanliness. Follow Florence from her early roots to her nursing career during the Crimean War and even some battles with the medical establishment. A must see for an in depth look at what many call the founder of modern day nursing.
- Miss Evers’ Boys
Alfre Woodard stars in this 1997 film made for HBO. She plays small town nurse Eunice Evers, who witnesses the horrors of the Tuskegee experiment. It was nominated for and won several Emmys including Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
We’ve all heard of the popular television series, but it was actually launched after this successful 1970 film. It is based on the story of three army doctors and takes place during the Korean War. A few nurses with clever nicknames also show up in this highly acclaimed film.
- So Proudly We Hail!
In another entry about historic nurses, this film follows a group of stationed in the Philippines during the days of World War II. It stars film classic favorites Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake, and Paulette Goddard, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film is based on a book written by an actual WWII nurse.
- Cry Havoc
What do a Southern Belle, waitress, and stripper have in common? In this 1943 picture, they are all turned army nurses stationed in Bataan during World War II. Again, nurses face the plight of war from the other end of the fighting. The film is also based on a play that starred Carol Channing and is named after a Shakespeare line.
- A Farewell to Arms
This film is based on an Ernest Hemingway novel which was semi-autobiographical. Directed by Charles Vidor, the 1957 film stars leading man Rock Hudson as an American soldier who meets and falls in love with a British nurse in an Italian hospital during World War I. Not uncommon for Hemingway work, it ends on a sad note.
This film was based on a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. Emma Thompson plays a fiercely demanding professor of English literature who contracts cancer. While at a hospital, an aggressive and experimental treatment is recommended. When it comes down to the patient’s final wishes and care, it is Nurse Susie who steps into the spotlight.
- Night Nurse
How far has nursing come in the last 80 years? The answer to that is in this film starring Barbara Stanwyck made in 1931. In the film, she plays a nurse who seeks the help of a petty criminal to foil a sinister plot to murder two children. Also useful for showing how nurses were trained and what they did.
- The Bag of Knees
This documentary follows the lives of nurses in various hospital wards. The film includes their backgrounds, careers, and experiences. Even the recent changes in healthcare are discussed. Click here to see a free scene from the documentary.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Don’t know who Nurse Ratched is? Then check out this 1975 Oscar Winner that follows a young Jack Nicholson through a stay at a mental institution. Louise Fletcher plays the offending nurse who makes his stay memorable.
- The Nun’s Story
Although the film focuses on the life and expectations of a nun, it is worth watching for Audrey Hepburn’s role as the lead, where she plays a nun and a nurse. The film is based on the true story of a nun at the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, where the main character is witness to a variety atrocities and must decide between her roles as a nun or a nurse.
- Meet the Parents
Sick of movies where nurses are only nurses and not people? For the double whammy of also featuring a male nurse is this film, which also spawned two sequels. Ben Stiller plays a nurse and newly-minted bane of his to be father in law’s existence. Robert De Niro plays the father-in-law and an ex CIA agent who can truly make any addition to the family miserable.
- The Nurse
Although nurses are known for caring for their patients above all, this 1997 film takes another turn. When the man who drove her father to go on a killing spree shows up in her hospital, this nurse gets the perfect opportunity for revenge. With an R rating, this psychological thriller is not for the easily scared.
- Prison Nurse
Not as bad as the title makes it sound, this is another entry in the “just watch it to see what nursing was like then” entries. Made in 1938, the story follows a nurse who signs on at a maximum security prison. When a typhoid epidemic breaks out, Judy and her friends must hold fast to save the day.
- 13 Weeks
More of a web series than a film, it follows the true story of six Access Nurse Travel RNs as they work in Southern California. From the ER to the ICU, many elements of nursing are shared. See all six episodes here.
And there are many other films and shows where nurses are depicted in addition to the above 15 best movies about nursing. Although nurses often get a supporting role on screen, their dedication and commitment to patients is far more common place in the everyday world.