The 12 All-Time Greatest TV Nurses

by Tera Tuten on November 2, 2010

Just like the characters they portray and the real-life professionals they honor, we decided to go big (instead of go home) with this one and rank the most awesome nurses portrayed on TV over the years, starting with #12 and ending with our choice for the most amazing TV nurse of all.

Character: Samantha Taggart

Played by:Linda Cardellini

TV show: ER (appeared 2003-2009)

Ranking: 12

Why she’s here on our list: Sam is a tough, independent single mom trying to raise her son on her own, while trying to make it in the ER. Her character ultimately swims – not sinks – throughout a series of crises both within and beyond the walls of Chicago’s fictional County General Hospital.

Samantha Taggart played by Linda Cardellini

Character: Veronica Callahan

Played by: Taylor Schilling

TV show: Mercy (appeared on the show’s only season in 2009/2010)

Ranking: 11

Why she’s here on our list: Callahan is the show’s main protagonist, a nurse freshly returned home from Iraq and forced to do her job while fighting multiple inner demons, including alcoholism. An interesting character from a fresh show that was killed before its time.

Veronica Callahan  Played by: Taylor Schilling

Character: Peter Petrelli

Played by: Milo Ventimiglia

TV show: Heroes (appeared 2006-2010)

Ranking: 10

Why he’s here on our list: Unique not just because this character is a male nurse (there are three on this list, including one in the “Honorable Mention” section) but also because he has super powers. (The only such listee with such an attribute…wait…yes, the only such one…)

Peter Petrelli  Played by: Milo Ventimiglia

Character: Carla Espinosa

Played by: Judy Reyes

TV show: Scrubs (appeared 2001-2009)

Ranking: 9

Why she’s here on our list: Nurses have tough, soul-challenging jobs that necessitate a certain amount of gruffness or black humor, but they also can have a lot of fun – or at least look at things in a way that puts a smile on their faces or others. Such is the case with no-nonsense wife and hospital staffer Carla Espinosa, constantly reminding us not to take $#!7 or sweat the small stuff.

Carla Espinosa  Played by: Judy Reyes

Character: Carol Hathaway

Played by: Julianna Marguilies

TV show: ER (appeared 1994-2000, 2009)

Ranking: 8

Why she’s here on our list: Scorned by co-workers for some tough decisions as head nurse and loved by audiences for her strong personality and on-again-off-again romance with George Clooney: This character helped record-breaking ER (the only show on this list more than once) define Thursday nights on NBC for more than a decade, including the performance of one episode that was filmed and put to air LIVE.

Carol Hathaway Played by: Julianna Marguilies

Character: Christina Hawthorne

Played by: Jada Pinkett-Smith

TV show: HawthoRNe (appeared 2009-2010)

Ranking: 7

Why she’s here on our list: A brilliantly-portrayed title role as a modern-day head nurse. Pinkett-Smith doesn’t always follow the rules, but – in a bravado of House – she does what she thinks is right and always seems to be able to convince others that she’s indeed right (or at least to go along with things until her hunches are proven correct – almost all the time, because it is TV after all…)

Christina Hawthorne Played by: Jada Pinkett-Smith

Character: Nurse Jackie

Played by: Edie Falco

TV show: Nurse Jackie (appeared 2009-2010-)

Ranking: 6

Why she’s here on our list: As Showtime officially says it, Nurse Jackie is “A drug-addicted nurse who struggles to find a balance between the demands of her frenetic job at a New York City hospital and an array of personal dramas.” Though you’ll notice no shortage or nurse characters with personal demons on this list, Nurse Jackie makes it this high on our list courtesy of brilliant writing that brings the protagonist of this story to life and shows the drama of some of the things real-life nurses in large metro areas face everyday.

Nurse Jackie Played by: Edie Falco

Character: Dell Parker

Played by: Chris Lowell

TV show: Private Practice (appeared 2007-2010)

Ranking: 5

Why he’s here on our list: One of the only honestly-portrayed male nurses on TV – albeit also dangled in front of female audiences early on as the straight-male-office-hottie – Lowell’s Dell Parker eventually transforms from a pink-scrub-wearing nurse/receptionist to a midwifery student with a bright future ahead as a character and role-model…then the writers killed-off his character. If not for that fact, we’d have probably thrown Dell in the #4 or 3 spot.

Dell Parker Played by: Chris Lowell

Character: Helen Rosenthal

Played by: Christina Pickles

TV show: St. Elsewhere (appeared 1982-1988)

Ranking: 4

Why she’s here on our list: The head nurse on the ward, Helen Rosenthal was caring and constantly competent. One of the most senior nurses at St. Eligius, she was the only such staff member who was on a first-name basis with much of the senior medical staff. What was incredible about Nurse Rosenthal wasn’t the drama or turmoil in her character’s life, but the excellence – her example as the constant steady rock that so many aspire to be.

Helen Rosenthal    Played by: Christina Pickles

Character: Christine Chapel

Played by: Majel Barrett Roddenberry

TV show: Star Trek, the original series (appeared 1964 and 1966-1969)

Ranking: 3

Why she’s here on our list: Being a nurse is hard enough though you’d think it would be easier by the time the 23rd Century rolled around. But week-in-week-out, poor Nurse Chapel had to put up with Klingon battle cruiser attacks, perils from unknown alien encounters, and the curmudgeonly demands of Dr. McCoy. By way of thanks, she later got to make a cameo in several Star Trek films as Dr. Chapel.

Christine Chapel Played by: Majel Barrett Roddenberry

Character: Abby Lockhart

Played by: Maura Tierney

TV show: ER (appeared 1999-2009)

Ranking: 2

Why she’s here on our list: Over the decade she worked as a nurse, medical student, and eventually doctor at County General, Abby remained one of the most complex characters to ever don nursing scrubs on TV. Her trials, triumphs, mistakes and redemptions weren’t just a reflection of the challenges faced in the real nursing world, but an object lesson in finding success, albeit along a stretching, broken road.

Abby Lockhart Played by: Maura Tierney

Character: Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan

Played by: Loretta Swit

TV show: M*A*S*H* (appeared 1972-1983)

Ranking: 1

Why she’s here on our list: One of the first nursing characters many still think of when they think of nurses portrayed on TV is our pick for the number-one all-time-TV-nurse. “Hot Lips” appeared on essentially what was both a comedy and poignant drama at the same time. Above all, Margaret Houlihan stands out for being a portrayal of a nurse who did her job under extreme circumstances while remaining both a woman and a human being.

Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan Played by: Loretta Swit

Honorable mention (nurse characters from non-TV continuing series/movie franchises):

– Madame Pomfrey from the Harry Potter book and film series

Madame Pomfrey from the Harry Potter book and film series

– Gaylord “Greg” Focker from the films Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers
Ben Stiller as Gaylord "Greg" Focker

Got an opinion about our ranking? Someone we left off who HAS to be on this list?
(We couldn’t – for the life of us – think of any nurse characters on Grey’s Anatomy worth mentioning, nor could we wrap out heads around which nurse to feature from General Hospital or any other soaps.)

Get in on the TV nurse debate below…

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

RN Mark 11.03.10 at 9:25 pm

HELLLOOOO!!!

How could anyone forget Julie London as Dixie McCall in EMERGENCY! Not only did she have to ride herd over an ED with all those lovable psychos, but also reign in eternally Randy Mantooth, the paramedic from Station 51, and even do the occasional vehicle entry while wearing white stockings.

How soon the younger generation forgets!

3+
RN Randy 11.04.10 at 11:08 pm

NO DOUBT!

Casting my vote for Dixie McCall and KMG365!

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Sandy 01.02.11 at 1:08 am

And how about the very powerful and real Lt Coleen McMurphy on the wartime show China Beach, played by Dana Delany.

2+
michael lacrosse 01.24.11 at 4:57 pm

how about nurse lucille on general hospital,wow what a chick…..

0
David 02.03.11 at 8:53 pm

I like “Hot Lips” Houlihan, but the best ever M*A*S*H nurse was Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger – he had the best variety of outfits.

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Bobby Gandy 02.03.11 at 9:50 pm

I’ve got to argue for Diahann Carroll in the TV series “Julia”. She broke all the barriers for black women in the sixties by taking care of business as a single Mom. And she did all that with a smile on her face the whole time!

2+
Thomas Tatham 02.03.11 at 10:21 pm

I think Nurse Jackie is GREAT!!!

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Devon 02.04.11 at 11:00 am

I totally agree that Dana Delany’s character on China Beach was the best tv nurse ever. I recently bought the whole series on DVD and the show is even better the second time around.

1+
Sarah 02.04.11 at 3:12 pm

I love Nurse Jackie. But it’s hard to beat the RN staff of ER… Too many great TV nurses to choose from.
Dear TV writers please keep ’em coming!

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trish 07.29.14 at 9:35 pm

Dixie, Dana’s character, but what about Julia.

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Suzanne Pierce 09.03.14 at 11:01 am

I have been a critical care and ER RN for over 20 years as well as a travel nurse and interested in change of career. I have a resume I can send you.

Thank you so much
Suzanne Pierce

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Adriana 08.03.16 at 6:24 am

I think in this list should also be quite a fresh movie called “Two Wrongs” ( http://putlockers.watch/3570-two-wrongs-2015.html ). It’s about a single mother working as an in-home nurse. Impressive!

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