An Evolution Of Stereotypes: The Nurse

Published December 14, 2014
Updated January 8, 2018

Much to the chagrin of professional nurses everywhere, there are at least 5 unfair and outdated stereotypes that nurses endure on a daily basis. From saint to sex object, from mother-figure to battle-axe, and perhaps the biggest and most widely accepted stereotype of them all: that nurses are supposed to be women.

An artist's representation of an early nurse is used to advertise ‘liquid bread’, a malt-extract for those on liquid diets.
1913: The healing mother, shown in the saintly position of feeding the poor and unfortunate.
1913: A sick man expresses his want to be sick forever as long as a pretty nurse is there to fulfill his needs
An Evolution Of Stereotypes: The Nurse
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In the mid 1850’s, the pioneer of nursing emerged amid the Crimean War conflict - Florence Nightingale. A statistician and versatile writer, Nightingale became known on the battlefield as the “lady with the lamp” because of her predictable night rounds. Nightingale founded the first secular nursing school in London.

Fast forward to the present day: nurses have been portrayed in all the above ways, and then some. From postcards to modern media, the common conception of what makes a nurse is explored in a postcard exhibit by the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. The exhibit shows that while stereotypes are persistent, the occupation has continued to grow thanks to the dedication and steadfastness of these often underestimated, greatly under-appreciated health professionals.

Erin Kelly
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.