Nurse stereotypes

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A woman wearing a "hot nurse" outfit displays the stereotype of sexualized female nurses

The profession of nursing is stereotyped. Nurses are commonly expected to be female and so male nurses are often stereotyped as effeminate.[1][2] In forms of low humour such as get-well cards, nurses are commonly portrayed as bimbos and, in medical drama and novels, nurses are commonly portrayed as young, female, single, childless and white.[3] Studies have identified several such popular stereotypes including:[4][5]

  1. Handmaiden – the female assistant of a physician, who is usually portrayed as male. Handmaidens are depicted without an independent knowledge base of their own—knowing only a tiny subset of what physicians know and following all physician commands.[6]
  2. Naughty nurse, sex symbol or nymphomaniac[6][7]
  3. Bimbo or airhead, exemplified by Betty Sizemore in Nurse Betty[6]
  4. Angel, exemplified by the popular accounts of Florence Nightingale – The Lady with the Lamp[6][8]
  5. Battleaxe, torturer or harridan, exemplified by Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Annie Wilkes from Misery[6][9]
  6. Homosexual male[6]
  7. Alcoholic, exemplified by Sarah Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit
  8. Buffoon or klutz, exemplified by Greg Focker in Meet the Parents
  9. Woman in White[6]

Angel as a model nurse[edit]

The lady with the lamp — Miss Nightingale at Scutari in 1854 painted by Henrietta Rae

The image of a nurse as a ministering angel was promoted in the 19th century as a counter to the then image of a nurse as a dissolute drunk, exemplified by Dickens' Sarah Gamp. The model nurse in this image was moral, noble and religious, like a devout nun — chaste and abstemious — rather than an unpleasant witch. Her skills would be practical and her demeanour would be stoic and obedient. Florence Nightingale promoted this image because, at the time, the idea of having female nurses attending the British army fighting the Crimean war was controversial, being thought immoral and revolutionary.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christine L. Williams (1991), "Masculinity in Nursing", Gender differences at work: women and men in nontraditional occupations, University of California Press, p. 107, ISBN 978-0-520-07425-5 
  2. ^ T. G. Mashaba, Hilla Brink (1994), Nursing education: an international perspective, p. 322, ISBN 978-0-7021-2620-8, ...nurses are stereotyped as females ... stereotypes of nursing still have a hold on society 
  3. ^ Janice Rider Ellis, Celia Love Hartley (2004), Nursing in today's world, p. 164, ISBN 978-0-7817-4108-8 
  4. ^ Philip Darbyshire (2009), "Heroines, hookers and harridans: exploring popular images and representations of nurses and nursing", Contexts of Nursing, pp. 51–64, ISBN 978-0-7295-3925-8 
  5. ^ Kay Kittrell Chitty (2005), "Influence of the Media on Nursing's Image", Professional nursing, p. 79, ISBN 978-0-7216-0695-8 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Philip Darbyshire, Suzanne Gordon (2005), "Exploring Popular Images and Representations of Nurses and Nursing", Professional Nursing, Springer Publishing Company, pp. 69–92, ISBN 0-8261-2554-9 
  7. ^ Sandy Summers, Harry Jacobs Summers (2010), "The Naughtiest Nurse", Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk, Kaplan Publishing Company, pp. 143–168, ISBN 978-1-607-14660-5 
  8. ^ Sandy Summers, Harry Jacobs Summers (2010), "You Are My Angel", Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk, Kaplan Publishing Company, pp. 193–214, ISBN 978-1-607-14660-5 
  9. ^ Sandy Summers, Harry Jacobs Summers (2010), "Winning the Battle-Axe, Losing the War", Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk, Kaplan Publishing Company, pp. 215–230, ISBN 978-1-607-14660-5 
  10. ^ Mary Chiarella (2002), "The nurse as a ministering angel", The legal and professional status of nursing, Elsevier Health Sciences, pp. 39–55, ISBN 978-0-443-07191-1 

Further reading[edit]

  • Catherine Judd (1998), Bedside Seductions: Nursing and the Victorian Imagination, 1830–1880, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-312-17705-8 
  • Sandy and Harry Jacobs Summers (2015), Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199337064  9780199337064