Read These Awesome Memoirs for International Nurses Day!

This year, nurses find themselves on the front lines fighting against COVID-19. Here are eleven nurse memoirs to honor their heroism and incredible work.

Memoirs & Biographies Non-Fiction Wellness

It is International Nurses Day! Today we honor all the nurses around the world for their hard work in taking care of patients. This year, however, is even more important for nurses, who find themselves on the front lines in hospitals taking care of those afflicted with COVID-19. They are placing themselves in danger every day to do this, and many have called nurses heroes. We must honor all the nurses who continue to do this incredibly difficult work, and honor those who have lost their lives against COVID-19. Here are eleven memoirs, written by nurses, to honor all of their efforts.


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1. intensive care: the story of a nurse

This memoir by Echo Heron tells the story from her time as a nursing student to her entry into the workforce, and the rude awakening she received from the realities of nursing practice. Heron shows devotion to helping even the most trying patients in some of the harshest environments like emergency rooms or intensive care units. Some questions that are raised are similar to: when does a patient have the right to end their own life? Or, how can a medical professional come to such a decision? Or, what can a nurse do if doctors don’t hold their patients’ best interests to heart?


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2. nurse on call: the true story of a 1950’s nurse

This memoir is about a nurse named Edith Cotterill, starting from her childhood, covering her nursing training, and discussing her personal life. Edith’s longs hours on the wards as a training nurse in the 1930s included tasks such as attaching leeches to patients or the disposal of amputated limbs in the furnace. After her children were born, Edith returned to work in the 1950s as a district nurse, approaching each patient with humor and compassion. The story of her nursing work is rather detailed, so if you’re a bit squeamish, you may want to avoid this memoir.


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3. beautiful unbroken: a nurse’s life

This memoir starts off with a young Mary Nealon and her dreams of growing up to become a saint or, if that doesn’t work, a nurse. When she enters nursing school, her younger brother is diagnosed with cancer. After his death, she flees into her nursing work and poetry. Her memoir discusses her years as a moving nurse from the Southwest to Savannah to treating the homeless in New York City and working in the city’s AIDS wards. Nealon uses her poetic nature to talk about the hard truths of recovery, life, and death.



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4. yes sister, no sister: my life as a trainee nurse in 1950’s yorkshire

This memoir talks about Jennifer Craig’s journey as a trainee nurse in the 1950s. She shows how she, and other young women, got a grip on things within the nursing field such as strict discipline, long hours, and bodily fluids. The harsh conditions prove too much for some her colleagues, but Jennifer’s opportunity to help others in their time of need is too much for her to overlook. She is determined to finish her exams to reach Ward Sister so that she herself won’t become the scary matron that struck fear into her heart as a student.


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5. Opening My Heart: A Journey from Nurse to Patient and Back Again

This memoir follows the story of Tilda Shalof, who was taking care of critically ill patients in the intensive care unit for twenty-five years, all the while never taking care of herself. When she falls ill with extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and crushing chest pains, she herself becomes the patient. It is discovered that Tilda required open-heart surgery to replace a defective valve and other heart damage. Her story chronicles her diagnosis, her fears and concerns, and what she learned about being a patient in her week-long stay in the hospital. By being a patient herself, she gained valuable insight into their perspectives which helped her to become a better nurse.


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6. at the coalface

This memoir follows a heart-warming story of Joan Hart, who started training as a nurse in 1948 when she was just sixteen years old. It talks about how her experiences took her into the Yorkshire mining pits and through the 1984-85 miners’ strike. When she took a job in 1974 as a pit nurse in Doncaster, she found out that she had to become one of the very men that she was taking care of in order for her to be accepted by them. She rejected the traditional nurse’s uniform and instead wore a baggy miner’s suit, pit books, and a hardhat and headlamp. After fifteen years, she got to know the miners not only as a nurse, but as a confidante and friend.



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7. becoming nursey

This memoir is written through the eyes of Kati Kleber, where she goes into her own personal experience by sharing stories of working as a nurse, and offering practical advise for nursing students and those just entering the field. For Kleber, learning how to be a great nurse while maintaining your sanity at home is no easy task. She discusses how to live as a nurse, both at home and at the bedside, all with some humor. Topics she discusses are nursing school survival, time management, talking to physicians, dealing with mistakes, or surviving your first code. Kleber’s stories of nursing gives readers insight on what it’s really like to be a nurse and the stark realities nurses face on a daily basis.


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8. the children’s nurse: the true story of a great ormond street nurse

This memoir tells the inspirational story of Susan Macqueen as a nurse from the 1960s to the 1980s, most of which was spent at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. When she was twelve, she accompanied her mom to see her friend, a matron at the local nursing home, and then knew that she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up. Despite being told her grades weren’t good enough, Susan was still accepted on the three-year nurses training course at Addenbooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Susan wanted to work with children, setting her sights on a job at Great Ormond Street. Her stories of hope, despair, laughter, and tears, move any reader though her incredible stories that she faced on a daily basis.


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9. Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between

This memoir was written by Theresa Brown, a regular contributor to the New York Times blog “Well.” She discusses the transition from being an English professor to a registered nurse, sharing her first year in the oncology unit. Brown highlights the emotional aspects, challenges, and rewards of working in critical care, while also sharing how working there has impacted her life and shaped her into the person she is today.



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10. sisters of east end

This memoir talks about the life of Sister Catherine Mary, who was a nurse and midwife. She was born into a working class North London family in the mid-twentieth century, meeting the Sister of St. John the Divine, a community of nuns dedicated to nursing and midwifery, in the 1950s. Catherine joined them in her journey to becoming a Sister. As a nurse and midwife, Catherine learns to deal with everything from strokes to breech births. Both tragic and joyful moments are highlighted, and while she rallies against the vows of obedience, she learns a lot about the nature of dedication and love over the years.


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11. (I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out) True Stories of Becoming A Nurse

This memoir by Lee Gutkind goes into the lives of several nurses instead of just herself as they recount their very first experiences in the nursing field. This book has a large collection of stories from people in multiple areas of nursing, spanning across several specialties. It’s meant to teach readers about the hard choices that healthcare professionals have to make throughout their careers, as well as the impact that their choices have.


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