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OPINION

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Roxanne McAnn names what she believes are the 10 greatest novels for nurses

One great way to escape the pressures and stresses of nursing or work is to read a great novel. These literary works, featuring nurses and health care 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 re ignite 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, a man whose memories slowly reveal a tale of love, betrayal and redemption.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 takes 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.
  5. 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. Dealing with not only healing the battle wounds of soldiers but her own ambivalence towards 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.
  6. The Glory Cloak: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Bartonby 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.
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 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.
  8. My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Set in the Civil War, a young midwife leaves home in this novel to seek out 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.
  9. Cherry Ames Nursing by Helen Wells. This collection of novels was geared towards young girls when it came out in the 40’s through the 60’s and meant to inspire them to a career in nursing. The young girl the stories center on is at first a student nurse 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.
  10. No Other Medicine 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 70’s, 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 health care and patient rights.

Roxeanne Mcann writes for nursing schools.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I wouldn't feel I'd escaped the stress of nursing reading about the civil war or war in africa or how hope is the last vestige remaining in a world of misery myself.
    I would heartily recommend Terry Pratchet The Wyrd Sisters though, or Mort.

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  • I think if you wish to study narrative medicine some of these novels may be interesting but if nurses need relaxation off duty, the last thing they may need is novels about nursing and medicine.

    What about all the other great novels in the English language which broaden one's outlook on life?

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