50 Nurse Stereotypes That Refuse To Die

Written By: Brittney Bertagna, BSN, RN

Stereotypes are long-standing observations of a group of people that often have a negative connotation. Nurse stereotypes are no different. They are the opinions of others that do not represent the entire population. Ever wonder what the common stereotypes for the nursing profession are? Most people have a few in mind but may not consider many others. In addition to the negative stereotypes of nurses, there are also positive stereotypes of nurses, which may affect how people view the entire profession. Here are 50 of the most common nurse stereotypes that refuse to die even after many years of progression.

What Exactly Are Nurse Stereotypes?

Nurse stereotypes are common perceptions of the nursing profession that are typically overgeneralized to all nurses. Like most stereotypes, they have been around a long time and are often misconceptions of the whole population of people, however, often contain some truth. Though some nurses you may encounter fit some stereotypes, it would be rare to find one which fits into nearly all of them. Nursing stereotypes are from years and years of personal experiences that can evolve over time. People outside the exact role typically place the most judgment on their own ideas and understanding of the situation. Some might be true, but some might not be true based on reasons often overlooked or out of the control of the nursing staff. There are often nurse stereotypes with “sub-stereotypes” within them. We have categorized these for you and will explain in further detail the most common stereotypes including gender stereotypes in nursing and nursing specialty stereotypes.


What Are The Main Causes Of Stereotyping In Nursing?

There are many reasons why someone would be prone to nursing stereotypes. Nurses are a large part of medical history and with that comes many portrayals of nurses in fiction and nonfiction settings. Unless someone works in the healthcare field or spends a lot of time at healthcare facilities there is no way for the general public to see what nurses do on a daily basis.

Because of many federal laws and mandates, privacy is extremely important for hospitals and healthcare facilities. This makes it even harder for the general public to have a real understanding of the day-to-day as a nurse. Because of that, many people believe the perpetuated stereotypes about nurses. Without their own personal experiences to base information on, individuals are left to rely on the image that they have floating around their heads from the internet and television.


(The following are the 50 most common nursing stereotypes that refuse to die.)


1. Nurses wearing dresses and hats to work is a very old stereotype about nurses.

The original nursing uniform was in fact dresses, hats, and more formal attire. Now, scrub tops and pants are the desired “look”. The unfortunate reality is that nursing can be a dirty job and having clothes that are specific to work are a necessity. It is also a necessity to have practical clothes for bending and lifting which are not conducive when wearing a dress.

2. All nurses are middle class.

Historically, this may have been true, however, nowadays a nurse's salary varies dramatically based on location, specialty, and experience. Depending on the cost of living and other arrangements, many nurses are able to support the entire family. This can also be attributed to their education level and thirst for knowledge within their career.

3. All nurses are white.

At one point in time, the nursing staff was exclusively white females. Due to many historical events and laws, but it is no longer the case. Nursing has one of the most diverse working populations across the nation. Now you will see nursing staff vary in age, ethnicity, and race along with education, marital status, and socioeconomics.

4. All nurses are Christian.

At the brink of the nursing career, the profession was primarily represented by the healing of the sick. There are nurses representing many different religions including Atheist, Buddhism, Judaism, Mormon, Catholic, and Non-denominational. This alone debunks this historical nursing stereotype.

5. All nurses act in saintly ways for the better of the patient.

Although this would be ideal and many nurses do in fact have “saintly” characteristics, there are many ways in which nursing staff support the contrary. There have been many counts of nurses abusing the system and negatively impacting society. A book was written on one such instance. 'The Good Nurse,' by Charles Graeber provides an inside look into one particular nurse who killed many of his patients. This is only one example of the stereotype being inaccurate, but as a society, we know that even those with the best of intentions are not always acting in “saintly” ways.

For more information and a different perspective on historical nurse stereotypes, check out The Evolution of the Nurse Stereotype via Postcards: From Drunk to Saint to Sexpot to Modern Medica Professionals, based on an exhibit at the Smithsonian.


1. Nursing staff are very compassionate individuals.

While most of this is true, some nurses may only appear compassionate in the work setting or towards their patients and their life outside of work is different. Other nurses may experience burnout and no longer have the drive to express compassion.

2. Nurses have an intuition that they can rely on in difficult situations.

With experience, nurses develop working clinical knowledge which aids in their clinical judgment and overall care for their patients. Though they might not always be correct, there is support behind the patient advocacy and they are followed up with scientific expertise. Clinical intuition in the nursing process is an article that expresses how this can be controversial in the field of nursing.

3. Nurses are the eyes and ears of the department.

Nurses in every department will agree that they are typically the first to identify a problem and are the ones who bring things up to other staff members including doctors and administration. This is not to say they are the only eyes and ears of the department, but because of the number of nurses and the direct interactions with patients, they are often the ones who know more about the day-to-day than other positions within a medical setting.

4. Nurses catch every mistake doctors make.

Again, maybe truthful on the surface, nurses also make mistakes and do not catch every mistake. There are multiple-step procedures to reduce mistakes across all positions. Doctors also catch nurses' mistakes and this all contributes to the working relationship and team-based approach in many healthcare settings.

5. Nursing is a skill that will always provide work is another nurse stereotype.

The nursing career will always be around. Many times of the year there is a chronic shortage of nursing staff that cannot keep up with the intake of patients, especially during COVID-19. There are plenty of opportunities to work and the short staff only encourages and allows for more overtime pay and increased working incentives. New Grads no longer have to start on the night shift in their least desired unit to “get in the system” for years before landing their dream job. Turnover is high for better or worse. According to Registered Nurses: Occupational Outlook Handbook “Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.” and “about 194,500 openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade.”


1. Nurses eat their young is a very common nursing stereotype.

This nurse stereotype is a common one in nursing. It plays directly into the burnout of nurses that you have been hearing about lately. It is more common among the more seasoned nursing staff because of the learning curve and initiation they may have experienced. This stereotype is slowly changing to embrace the new grad students into the nursing culture with open arms.

2. Nurses wipe people’s butts for a living.

The roles and responsibilities of nurses vary depending on the setting and department however, I would be lying if I said this was not part of the job. Nurses are in charge of the patient as a whole with consideration for hygiene, medications, and ambulation. A task as simple as wiping a patient can be easily delegated to reduce the time a nurse spends on less emergent tasks.

3. There is never enough nursing staff.

Hospitals are chronically short-staffed and nurses are the ones who take the majority of the hit is another nurse stereotype. When working in these conditions for more hours than normal, fewer breaks and increased fatigue can burn out nurses fairly quickly. Nurses typically care for others more than themselves and because of this, some will encounter negative side effects from being overworked regardless of the pay. As discussed above, there is a projection of increasing nursing positions and no inclination of this changing.

4. Nurses are exactly as you see them on TV is one of the most popular when it comes to nurse stereotypes.

Medical shows continually portray the nursing profession in a way that does not always accurately depict reality. They consistently represent stereotypes in nursing with incorrect job responsibilities, inaccurate medical protocols, and never-ending love affairs with doctors. TV and movies regularly show nurses as over-dramatized with job duties that are over-glamorized and do not fully grasp the day-to-day of a nurse. Maybe because if they did, not many people would want to watch it. For entertainment purposes, many layers of drama and romance are added to keep viewers watching. But until movies and television change how nurses are portrayed it will be very hard for people to change their perception of nurses.

5. Nurses are just doctors' assistants.

Again, the roles and responsibilities of nursing are all inclusive and can range in skill as well as knowledge of the human body. Many nursing positions require a great deal of critical thinking outside of what the doctor orders and should not be confused with working as a team.

6. Nurses require large amounts of caffeine to function.

In order to maintain the energy and focus required for quality patient care, it is important that nurses are fully caffeinated if they choose to be. There are plenty of nurses who do not drink caffeine, however, the stereotype is not completely false. I would however say that most Americans drink an obscene amount of caffeine to manage their daily lifestyle and it is not specifically a nurse stereotype.

7. Nurses follow their intuition regardless of what the doctor tells them is another common nursing stereotype.

As previously mentioned, with experience, nurses gain a level of confidence and patient advocacy that typically benefits the patient. The problem arises when they are pushing back from what the doctor has ordered. Doctors are the medical professionals in the department and nursing staff must adhere to their guidance. Sometimes nurses will think they are right and will push for the outcome they desire, but the doctors may have had other discussions in collaboration that the nurse might not yet know about.

8. Nurses, themselves, make the worst patients is another popular nurse stereotype amongst the nursing community.

There comes a time when nurses might become a patient for a variety of different reasons. Retired nurses had a very different experience working than nursing staff today and will often comment on the way things are being done that does not seem right to them. Due to different policies or stereotypes, a nurse might have in their mind regarding different departments might also influence how they treat the nursing staff when they are a patient.

9. Nurses aren’t smart enough to be doctors.

You cannot compare apples to oranges. Nursing is a completely different role within the medical field and it is not about being smart enough or not. Most nurses have not even considered being doctors because of all other factors aside from intelligence. The ones who have considered it typically further their education within the nursing practice to become NPs or DNPs. Though it is not an MD or DO, the nursing model is a different understanding of healthcare.

10. Nurses always being stressed out is a very common nursing stereotype.

The lifestyle and expectations of a nurse can be very difficult. Each nurse will handle this stress as they see fit, but it may be expressed differently than you or I. They are constantly dealing with other people’s problems and can become overwhelmed by the amount of work put on them. This is not always true. Not all nurses process and deal with their stress the same and some may appear very calm in the most stressful of situations. You will also see a difference in stress level based on the department or setting where the nursing staff is as well as the role within the department they may have.

11. Nurses always complain about their job and patients.

Though it may seem that way at times, sitting down to really speak with nurses can open your eyes to the heartwarming stories they also have to offer. Complaining about the difficult patients or hard days does not out shadow the goods of the job or we would not have nursing as a career profession. Complaining or venting is a form of coping that not all individuals understand. Sometimes to get through the more challenging circumstances the nursing field sees, complaining is inevitable.


1. Female nurses flirt with their patients and other staff members.

Gender stereotypes can play a big role in the nursing field. Female nurses have had this stereotype for many years and are often the target of TV dramas. This allows for more entertaining circumstances and is by no means reality. In a hospital setting, female nurses are treated the same as male nurses and given no advantages for being more friendly than another.

2. Another female nurse stereotype is that female nurses are provocative.

As many Halloween costumes depict the female nurse, they are not necessarily a “sexy” profession. Given the roles and responsibilities of nursing staff, most will tell you it is not the profession for weak stomachs or people afraid to get dirty. This female nurse stereotype is entirely inaccurate.

3. Female nurses are handmaidens.

Nurses do follow the orders of doctors and provide their patients with their basic wants and needs, but they are by no means at the beck and call of anyone. They are human and put themselves first. This stereotype has increased in recent years due to the entertainment industry.


1. Male nurses are more feminine than other males.

This assumption stems from the historically female nursing role and the role of a caregiver as female. Many departments have more female nurses than males and because of this males may seem more feminine or more comfortable in a room full of women than other men.

2. All nurses are female is one of the most common nursing stereotypes.

This, in recent years, has proven to be completely false. Though it may have started as a more female dominant profession, there are male nurses in all departments of every hospital and outpatient facility across the nation. Some professions may in fact have more of one gender than the other, but to find a profession that is solely one gender in this day and age would be impressive.

3. Another male nurse stereotype is that they “settled” to be a nurse.

Just like female nurses, this is a career choice and not because they could not be something else. This stereotype is also outdated because of the initial male-dominated role of being a doctor. In this day and age, there are both male and female doctors as well as male and female nurses.

4. Male nurses aren’t as compassionate as female nurses.

Some would argue male nurses are more compassionate because most people have a predetermined opinion that males are less emotionally attached to others. They also express these emotions in different ways which might be construed as not being compassionate.


1. All nurses do the same kind of work.

All nurses are trained in the same kind of work and all jobs require certain skills which nurses universally use. This does not mean that they all do the same day-to-day work. The following stereotypes will aid in this distinction.

2. All nurses work in hospitals is another one of the very common nurse stereotypes.

Hospitals provide work for the majority of nursing staff. Think about the pure number of nurses required to keep a hospital up and running. Each department hires hundreds if not thousands of nurses to fill all the shifts of every hour of every day. This would take a lot of nurses, but there are plenty of other options. Every medical facility you have ever been to has nursing staff. The pediatrician, your oncologist, the skilled nursing facility where Grandma lives, schools, summer camps, educators, advice nursing, the list goes on and on.

3. Emergency Department nurses have a reputation for being overly aggressive and strong-headed is another nursing stereotype.

They are placed into a working environment where they have to be “on” at all times without any warning for what will be their next patient. Their personality and attributes are therefore different because of the day-to-day stress they may experience. They often get annoyed with other departments because of the pace at which they expect things to happen.

4. ICU Nurses have a reputation for being overly aggressive and strong-headed in a structured and controlled environment.

Similar to ED nurses the working conditions increase the overall stress of a shift and can contribute to these stereotypes. Critical patients require more time at the bedside as well as a better understanding of the disease processes.

5. Med-Surg Unit Nurses are new grads.

In nursing school, you will hear that the highest turnover and more available positions are in the Med-Surg units and this is where you would likely be starting your nursing career. Med-Surg nurses see a wide range of patients and have a wide range of experience levels. Most new grads would benefit from learning in an environment like this because of the diversity and will become expert multitaskers for any department from then on. It is seen to be a great starting point for the nursing career as the patients may also be less critical and require less elaborate care plans.

6. Pediatric nurses are typically seen to be very warm, compassionate, and child-like.

The personality of a pediatric nurse might seem less intimidating than an ED nurse because of the population they are constantly surrounded by. They are treating young children and have to ensure their safety and trust regardless of the task.

7. Labor and Delivery nurses are typically seen as baby lovers.

Many people assume that since they are helping patients deliver babies that all labor and delivery nurses love babies. In fact, the majority of a labor and delivery job is the safety and comfort of the mother. Yes, L&D nurses monitor the baby's progress through the many stages of labor but in most cases will reach out to the Neonatal ICU if problems with the baby arise.

8. Charge nurses have a reputation for being very strong-headed and opinionated.

On many units where an MD is not physically present the charge nurse steps into a more leadership role to ensure the necessary resources and expertise is available when needed. Charge nurses must fill many hats when it comes to keeping a single unit running smoothly and can come off as aggressive and demanding to those who are not used to direct communication.

9. Surgical Nurses have a reputation for being OCD clean freaks.

Once in the operating room, surgical nurses are responsible for the sterility and order to the flow and logistics of surgical cases for that shift. But not all surgical services nurses work in the operating rooms. Many will go their entire career and never set foot in an OR.

10. Psychiatric nurses are not real nurses.

The stereotype that most psychiatric, or psych nurses face is that they have it easy and aren’t even real nurses. Many people think they are only required to know psychiatric medications and aren’t real nurses because most do not perform many of the routine tasks and skills bedside nurses do on a routine basis. In actuality, almost all patients have psychiatric concerns and psych nurses play a very important role in healthcare. The reality is that psychiatric nursing is just different. Instead of caring for and stabilizing the physical body, they specialize in the mental health of patients, and this skill is needed more than ever now.

11. Night Shift nurses don’t do anything because everyone’s asleep.

On many units, patients sleep, but on most units when they are in the hospital, they are not. In the Emergency Department, there are constantly patients coming and going with the lights on and alarm bells ringing. This is not conducive for patients to sleep, and because nursing staff still have plenty of tasks to complete it can come to the detriment of patients' sleep. In the L&D unit, babies are born at all hours of the night. Night shift nursing is a position because patients aren’t just sleeping, otherwise, they would be home sleeping themselves.


1. Nursing students can’t be trusted is another common nurse stereotype.

Nursing students are new to the profession and should not be trusted to do everything on their own without supervision as the hired staff members are. This does not mean they cannot be trusted to do tasks that they are trained to do with minimal assistance. They are still learning and may need some guidance.

2. You have to go to school for 4 years to be a nurse.

Typically, a nursing degree is acquired at a 4-year university to gain a BSN, however, this is not the only option. Many programs provide a 2-year associate's level degree which is sufficient for becoming an RN. With this degree, you qualify to take the certifying exam and will be able to perform the job as others who may hold a BSN. Our Guide to the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) provides a lot of support for why someone might not get their degree from a 4-year college.

3. They don’t know anything.

This stereotype may also be attributed to the fact that student nurses are sent to unfamiliar departments, hospitals and working with staff they do not know. They might have more questions because they are not familiar with the policies or flow of the department. Again, THEY ARE STILL LEARNING. Many preceptors are great at scaffolding the day-to-day flow of the nursing position to ensure the students feel comfortable before being given more responsibilities.

4. Nurses have to get straight A's.

As a very competitive field to get into, most people think you have to maintain straight As throughout the entire program because they were told time and time again they had to get As in the prerequisites to even be considered. This is not necessarily true once you’re in a nursing program. The competitive field is now leveled and the grades do not have as much weight as before. It is important to do well and understand the material, but if you get a few Bs and or even a C you will still get the same license as someone with straight As.

5. Student nurses are just a tech or CNA during training.

This is a nurse stereotype that is not true and can be very frustrating for nursing students. If they were training to be a tech or CNA, then they would be training with the tech or CNA. These students are being trained to do the nursing role and that is how they should be treated. Some tasks may be done by a tech or CNA, but those are also tasks that RNs should and could do at any point during their shift. Nursing students should not be used solely for this purpose during their training on the floor.

6. Nursing students are slow and take forever to do tasks.

They’re learning! This is true, but not for all tasks and it is inevitable. Keep this in mind, they might double or triple check their work in fear of making a mistake, but is that really a bad thing? Being a quick and efficient nurse takes years of experience and that might mean more practice to get faster at a task.

7. Nursing students are all afraid to talk to doctors.

This is part of the job. It is crucial to maintain open communication between all staff members. It can be intimidating to call a doctor at all times of the day especially if they are notorious for being rude or annoyed easily. Not all nursing students are afraid to speak with doctors. Most have other healthcare experience or form relationships with the doctors in their department and gain good rapport in a short period of time.

8. Nursing students think they’ll start working their dream job from day one.

The reality is that nurses typically work in undesired departments and shifts which are not conducive to their current lifestyle. The overall job availability is there, but the reality is that new grads do not have a lot of experience to compete for more desired departments or shifts and will often begin on night shift or on a unit they do wish to spend their entire career on.

9. Nursing students are using nursing as a stepping-stone to CRNA school or NP programs.

Many student nurses dream of expanding their knowledge and want to get the experience required for furthering their education. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it is admirable and required that they do so. Some (more seasoned) nurses may see this as a bad thing as they are not seen to be fully committed to the career as it is.

10. Another nurse stereotype is that students are naive to the reality of death in all healthcare settings including pediatrics and L&D.

The draw to the profession as a nursing student or new grad is always to help those in need and provide healthcare in a healing way. This reduces the likelihood that patients will return because of the excellent care and education they now have on their health. The reality is that patients die every day including the very young and new mothers. This can be shocking and uncomfortable for new grads to cope with as they may have never seen a dead body before.

11. Nursing students ask someone irrelevant questions to try to impress.

It is important for nursing students to be engaged and ask questions when they have them. To attempt to impress their preceptor, some might try to use fancy vocabulary or ask irrelevant questions in hopes to stand out in their position. The truth is, most nursing students will stand out in other ways and preceptors can see right through the ones who try “too hard”.

How Do These Stereotypes Affect Nurses?

Stereotypes can affect nurses in both positive and negative ways. A positive outcome would be seeing how confident and compassionate a nurse is and wanting to be like them or getting into the field of nursing because of the nurses that might have treated you as a child. Positive stereotypes of nurses are a gateway into the field and can impact the lives of many others. Hard-headed nurses too can want to prove the negative stereotypes wrong and go the extra mile to do so. Unfortunately, negative effects are more common. Seeing how nursing is depicted, might also shy others away from the profession who would be very good at the job, but are misinformed of what it actually entails. A negative outlook on nursing can affect their mental health and make their job a lot harder.

The people they are treating have different expectations of what a nurse is there to do and in turn conflict with what they are required to do for the patient to sustain a better medical outcome. Negative stereotypes about nurses can affect their performance especially as a nursing student and it is more difficult to move past mentally. There are many other reasons why nurse stereotypes can affect a nurse and should be considered when working with or being treated by a nurse.

Often there is tension between staff members from different departments or specialties that affect the day-to-day flow of the patient’s care. This can negatively affect the staff when one is mistreated by another based on stereotypes as well as prolong the treatment of the patient when personal conflicts arise within a professional setting.

8 Tips For Nurses To Effectively Tackle Stereotyping

Nurses work alongside patients and can help combat stereotyping on a daily basis. With each interaction with patients, nurses are providing a new or differing perspective making a great start to overcoming nursing stereotypes.

1. Nurses can build personal relationships with their patients and let their organic interactions be the catalyst to overcoming nursing stereotypes.
2. Nurses can reflect on their own biases and let go of any negative preconceptions.
3. Accept each patient as the unique human being that they are and allow them to feel safe and heard.
4. Nurses can put themselves out there on social media and share their personal experiences and perspectives.
5. Create a warm and welcoming environment so that patients can feel safe.
6. Nurses can take a more hands-on role with the community outside the walls of the hospital and interact with their own community.
7. Nurses can educate other staff members when they witness unfair stereotyping.
8. Nurses can advocate and support others who are actively overcoming these stereotypes.

How Do Patients View Stereotypes in Nursing?

Patients can have a wide range of how they view nurse stereotypes based on their outside knowledge of the profession. Patients who have only seen nurses on television may treat them less professionally and as though they are sleeping with everyone in the department. A patient who has been a nurse in the ICU and is now a patient in the Emergency Department may find them to be rude based on their own personal views of the different departments. An elderly patient may have a very different view of nursing based on their personal experience in the past which is very different from nursing today.

5 Ways Nurse Stereotyping Can Affect Patient Care

Patient care does have the potential to be interrupted if interactions are not optimal due to nurse stereotypes and below are a few ways care could be affected.

1. It can interrupt communication.
2. It can delay care if communication has been greatly affected.
3. Poorer patient outcomes.
4. It can create tension between departments.
5. It creates unnecessary stress among all members of the healthcare team including the patient.

6 Ways We Can Stop Stereotyping In Nursing

1. Form your own opinion:

Nursing stereotypes can come from a long line of believing what others say. Over time it becomes ingrained into society. To stop stereotyping in the nursing industry it's important for everyone to form their own opinion based on multiple experiences in a variety of different settings. One’s outlook might change based on their personal experiences but can also impact the opinion of others.

2. Not all nurses are created equal:

Like any profession, you will find some good at their job and some who are not. Nurses are humans, they make mistakes, and have a life outside of work. Because you had an experience with one nurse (good or bad) in one specialty, does not mean you will have the same experience any other time.

3. Understand the roles and responsibilities:

Understanding what is expected of a nurse on any given day can help put their outlook and mood into perspective. This can also be a key component of knowing what they can help you with as a patient and what they can help you with as a coworker.

4. Be open to changing your opinion:

This is the most important part of stopping a stereotype. A stereotype is typically one way and stuck because of the unwillingness to change your opinion. Though some stereotypes are true for one reason or another, it does not apply to every nurse and it is unfair when you place this judgment on everyone in that profession.

5. Assess your own bias:

One way to stop stereotyping in nursing is to assess how you feel about certain nursing staff and see if this is fair to all nurses. I’m guessing the answer is no. There is not one stereotype that is fair to play on all nurses. Assessing your own feelings can make you more aware of your actions and opinions moving forward.

6. Change negative stereotypes to positive ones:

This can be an effective way to stop the stereotyping of nursing. There are many forms that can help contribute, but if we cannot get rid of all stereotypes, changing them to more positive ones can help with the transition.

My Final Thoughts

Taking a step back to see and understand not only what the stereotypes of nursing are, but how they are affecting patient care can push you to change your view on nurse stereotypes. Above are the 50 most common nurse stereotypes that refuse to die because of the lack of understanding their impact. When asked what are the common nursing stereotypes, you will now have a plethora of examples to share and explain why they may be true or misunderstood.

Brittney Bertagna, BSN, RN
Brittney Bertagna is currently a nurse and writer in Las Vegas, NV. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration she completed nursing school and became a registered nurse. While working a night shift in the neonatal ICU she went back to school to get her second bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Governors University. Now she enjoys working with children in the surgical setting as well as with her adult patients as an infusion nurse.