Drama! Intrigue! Romance! Adventure!
When I tell people that I read vintage nurse romance novels, they often look at me askance, and I have to explain that these novels are nothing at all like contemporary bodice rippers. They are about young women and their adventures and struggles, their friends, their families, their problems at work, their boyfriends—like Sex in the City, only without the sex. Whether intentional or not, they are often hilarious. At their best, they’re campy, witty and fun. They’re also an interesting glimpse back at medicine and a world that makes me grateful to be living a safe distance from that time.
The nurse-heroines are usually portrayed as smart, capable and quite committed to their careers. They stand up to or win over condescending doctors, irritable patients and evil co-workers. Indeed, a central theme is often the dichotomy between the expectations of them as women (to be submissive and self-effacing) and the expectations of them as nurses (to be capable and strong). The nursing persona frequently triumphs.
Oh, and there is one certainty with this genre: The nurse always ends up with Mr.—or Dr.—Right by her side and a ring on her finger.
The Marriage Plot: There’s the seemingly unavailable man who makes her heart race whenever she thinks of him, and the one who would make the perfect husband, if only she loved him. After chapters of soul-searching, the nurse heroine inevitably chooses love over security, personal integrity over societal pressure.
The Ultimate Choice: Her fiancé wants her to give up working, but how can she choose between her love of a man and her love of nursing? Luckily, there’s another potential husband waiting in the wings (usually a doctor) who supports and appreciates her work.
A Patient in Need: Whether the patient is a child or a candidate for marriage, our nurse is forced to fight for him, putting her job in jeopardy, but she sacrifices without question and always triumphs in the end.
The Accused: Her patient dies, and to all concerned, our nurse has made some fatal error. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear she’s been falsely accused, and she is finally exonerated.
Another World: It could be Africa, the big city, a small town, a cruise ship, a surfing safari, the folk music circuit or back home to help care for her family. The nurse is: a) running away from some pain (the death of a fiancé or a devastating breakup), b) accompanying (never chasing) the man she loves into a strange world or c) leaving the city life she loves to return home and care for her family.
Mystery Solved: What is that monster roaming the swamps? Why is the nurse’s aide so knowledgeable about neurology? What does the hobo living in the hospital basement want? Why is her dead father’s ghost exhorting a 12-year-old girl to kill herself? Is that gang of hoodlums going to take over the hospital and murder the surgery team? Never fear, our nurse provides the answers by the end of these page-turners.