In the Media: China Beach's Colleen McMurphy Most Popular Fictional Nurse Character

    • April 30, 2012

Dozens of readers cast ballots and commented on their favorite fictional nurse character, and the results are in: Colleen McMurphy, the combat nurse and lead character in China Beach, the 1980s-era drama set in an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War, ran away with the title.

China Beach seemed to do a great job of showing combat nurses at work,” one reader wrote in response to a post and accompanying quiz about fictional nurses published on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Blog. “Too bad the depictions of male nurses aren’t more realistic.”

McMurphy snagged 21 of 70 votes, or 30 percent of those who took the quiz. That was nearly twice as many as the second-place contender, Margaret Houlihan, the military nurse in the critically acclaimed television series M.A.S.H.

“I am a nurse today because of Margaret Houlihan,” one visitor to the blog wrote. “I mean the real Margaret from the books. When I read Margaret—stand on your own feet, speak your mind, live life your own way—I was all in.”

Jackie Peyton, the controversial lead character in Showtime’s current medical drama Nurse Jackie, ranked third, followed by Carla Espinosa, the nurse character on the popular situation-comedy Scrubs. Even Nurse Ratched—the tyrant in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—got a few votes in the quiz.

A significant portion of those voting—17 percent—said none of the characters listed in the quiz were reasonable depictions of nurses, and another 14 percent offered their own write-in candidates. Topping the write-in list were Cherry Ames, a nurse lead in a series of mysteries published in the mid-20th century, and Carol Hathaway, the nurse and nurse manager on the long-running medical drama ER.

“Another vote for Cherry Ames!” one reader enthusiastically wrote. “My mom, a nurse, shared one of the books with me when I was growing up because she had loved the series so much when she was deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up.”

Other write-in mentions included Consuelo Lopez, the nurse in the medical drama Marcus Welby, MD; Maisie Dobbs, the former military nurse and lead character in the eponymous mystery novel; Julia Baker, a nurse and widowed single mother in the TV series Julia; and “the nurse in The English Patient who stayed with her burn patient during World War II.”

What do you think of the results? There’s still time to comment and take the quiz. Join the conversation and keep up on nursing perspectives on policy, medicine, and more on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Human Capital blog.