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Nurses seem to be everywhere in popular culture...

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It seems that modern life is full of nurses – or pretend nurses, that is. The profession seems to be a particular favourite for the nation’s advertisers, TV producers and tabloids.

It’s probably not that surprising given the number of people doing nursing roles for a living and the popularity of the public sector with broadcast media - just think how many dramas and fly-on-the-wall documentaries are about hospitals or the police.

For a bit of fun, Nursing Times has picked out a dozen examples of where nurses are featured in popular culture, some more recent than others. And yes, we are aware that no male examples are feature. Don’t blame us, blame society and its stereotypes.

We have also taken the decision to not include anything too obvious like Casualty, Holby City or Call the Midwife.


1. Cockney compassion

Sonia Fowler

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

There have been several fictional nurses among the case of the BBC’s long-running soap EastEnders. The current on-off incumbent is Sonia Fowler played by the actress Natalie Cassidy. According to the storyline, she began training in 2004 and is listed on the BBC website as a geriatric nurse. Not much more to go on, I’m afraid – no information about trusts worked at or current AfC banding.


2. Bargain bling

H Samuel

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

High street jeweller H Samuel has a Christmas advert this year to promote its “forever diamond” collection. In the ad, a woman returns from work to a Christmassy house where a young man jumps out with an engagement ring. The woman delightedly receiving the jewellery is wearing a green nursing tunic.


3. Nurse in boots


Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

In the Boots Christmas advert a suburban family puts off celebrating until the early hours of Boxing Day so that a nurse – this time in a light blue uniform – coming off an all-night shift does not miss out. The ad ends with the line “because she’s special”.


4. Spreading the love


Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

For much of 2015, sunflower product Flora Light was being promoted in a cartoon-styled advert that seemed to suggest that women who ate the spread would be attractive to the friends of their teenage offspring. Know the one? The story – titled Fit by Katie – is narrated by a girl who recounts a tale in which her brother brings a school friend home for a snack. The friend then divulges that he thinks their mum is “really fit”, before legging it when he realises she overheard him. And yes, the blushing mum is wearing a blue nurse’s uniform with a fob watch.


5. Pedal power

Boris bikes

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

One of our personal favourites is this “Boris bike” maintenance van, which was spotted outside our offices in Old Street, London, and sports a district nurse of days gone by.


6. Return to practice

Gladys Emmanuel

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

For those of a certain age, the strong, independent community practitioner is personified by Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, who lived opposite Arkwright’s shop in the classic comedy Open All Hours. Played by actress Lynda Baron, the district nurse was the hard-to-get love interest of Ronnie Barker through much of the 1970s and 1980s, who returned to our screens for the sequel Still Open All Hours in 2013 and is still on them.


7. Nurse misbehaving

Caroline Quentin

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

Admittedly, we’re going back a bit but Caroline Quentin was on the radio the other day, which sparked a memory or two. From 1992 to 1998, plus a couple of later specials, the actress played Dorothy, the outspoken but long-suffering partner of Gary in hit comedy Men Behaving Badly. The character was a famously a nurse, presumably employed somewhere in South London or Surrey.


8. Tate modern matron

Catherine Tate

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

And now, to an example of how not to be a nurse – well not a good one anyway. Never shy from airing an opinion at the expense of a hospital patient, Bernie the vulgar nurse was a popular character in Catherine Tate’s hit comedy sketch show, which ran for three series. Unlike many of the other examples featured here, the Catherine Tate Show’s Bernie was always featured in healthcare settings with nursing integral to the joke, rather than simply being a character who happened to be a nurse by profession.


9. Alternative Brand


It would be hard to get through the year without seeing comedienne Jo Brand appearing on a panel show, narrating a documentary or fronting a campaign. As well as being famous for being left-wing, outspoken and generally amusing, most people know that this probable national treasure was also once a mental health nurse. She trained at the Maudsley and Royal Bethlem Hospitals in London. She was subsequently based at the Maudsley’s emergency clinic where she was a senior charge nurse.


10. Nurse in life and fiction

Abi Titmuss

Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

Which former member of the profession has also been an actress, TV personality and glamour model, as well as having famously dated a Blue Peter presenter? That’s right, Abi Titmuss. She was born in Nottinghamshire and now lives in LA. However, back in 1998, she completed a nursing diploma at City University and Barts, before becoming a staff nurse at University College Hospital in London – a job she was still doing when she met John Lesley. With a certain dose of irony, she recently landed the part of a nurse called Jackie in long-running US medical soap Days of Our Lives.


11. Plastic fantastic


Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

Nursing has been a career option for Barbie for nearly as long as the popular toy has been in production. Registered Nurse Barbie first appeared in 1961, only two years’ after the first Barbie doll was introduced by Mattel. The nurse doll came complete with classic white uniform, a red lined navy cape and hat. The latest incarnation, brought out in 2012 as as part of the Barbie I Can Be career-driven range, suggested a more specialist role. Dressed in fashionable, figure-hugging scrubs, the doll came with a stethoscope, otoscope and charting pad. However, although bare below the elbows, the hair definitely needed tying back.


12. Care on air


Nurses seem to everywhere in popular culture

The word “nurse” has featured in the title of three music albums, as far as we can see. They are:

  • Night Nurse was the best known album from reggae artist Gregory Isaacs. Released in 1982, it included a hit single of the same name.
  • Nurse was the 1992 breakthrough album by Northern Irish alternative metal band Therapy?.
  • Sonic Nurse was the 13th studio album from the US alternative rock band Sonic Youth, which was released in 2008.


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