Celluloid angels: a research study of nurses in feature films 1900-2007

J Adv Nurs. 2008 Oct;64(1):84-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04793.x.


Aim: This paper is a report of a study examining the influence on how nursing and nurses are portrayed in feature films made between 1900 and 2007, with a nurse as their main or a principle character and a story-line related specifically to nursing.

Background: Nurses and the nursing profession are frequently portrayed negatively or stereotypically in the media, with nurses often being portrayed as feminine and caring but not as leaders or professionals capable of autonomous practice.

Methods: A mixed method approach was used to examine feature films made in the Western world. Over 36,000 feature film synopses were reviewed (via CINAHL, ProQuest and relevant movie-specific literature) for the keywords 'nurse'/'nursing'. Identified films were analysed quantitatively to determine their country of production, genre, plot(s) and other relevant data, and qualitatively to identify the emergence of themes related to the image of nurses/nursing in films.

Findings: For the period from 1900 to 2007, 280 relevant feature films were identified. Most films were made in the United States of America or United Kingdom, although in recent years films have been increasingly produced in other countries. Early films portrayed nurses as self-sacrificial heroines, sex objects and romantics. More recent films increasingly portray them as strong and self-confident, professionals.

Conclusion: Nurse-related films offer a unique insight into the image of nurses and how they have been portrayed. Nurses need to be aware of the impact the film industry has on how nurses and nursing are perceived and represented in feature films.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological*
  • Motion Pictures*
  • Nurses*
  • Social Perception
  • Stereotyping*