Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Nurse

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Nurse (RN)

Overview: Registered nurses are in charge of patient care. They observe and record symptoms, helping to guide a patient’s health plan. They also instruct loved ones and caregivers in how to properly care for a patient. Some RNs may have other roles outside of patient care, such as teaching or organizing a nursing crew. They may work in a hospital, clinic, long-term care facility, doctor’s office, school, or even prison. If they’re part of a home health care company, they’ll travel to meet their patents in their homes or at other facilities. Depending on where they work, some nurses will focus primarily on certain kinds of patients or care, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, plastic surgery, dermatology, etc.

Necessary Training: Registered nurses need a 4-year nursing degree and will have to pass a national licensing exam. Nurses with a graduate degree can seek certification in an advanced clinical profession to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or a specialist in another area.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, basic first aid, empathy, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, multitasking, reading people

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, affectionate, alert, calm, centered, cooperative, courteous, decisive, diplomatic, discreet, efficient, empathetic, friendly, hospitable, industrious, intelligent, kind, merciful, meticulous, nurturing, objective, observant, optimistic, organized, patient, perceptive, professional, responsible, sensible, studious, supportive, unselfish

NEGATIVE: Fussy, manipulative, pushy

Sources of Friction: Fractious or uncooperative patients, patients who lie about their true condition or health habits, missing important warning signs in a patient, suspecting that an elderly or underaged patient is being abused, being unable to help a patient, having to provide end-of-life care for a favorite patient, a patient being unable to afford treatment, losing touch with a critically ill patient (because they moved unexpectedly, were transferred to an area beyond one’s care, etc.), becoming addicted to opioids or other medications, being asked by a terminal loved one to help with their final transition, undesirable work conditions, working with patients who don’t follow prescribed treatments and keep having the same problems, overbearing or condescending doctors, favoritism in one’s department, budget cuts that result in understaffing and poorly maintained equipment, seeing problems with a patient that one can’t treat (homelessness, toxic relationships, poor nutrition, etc.), treating a patient and discovering they have a dangerous and infectious disease, suspecting a doctor of malpractice or incompetence, harassment on the job

People They Might Interact With: Doctors, other nurses, other healthcare providers (physical therapists, psychologists, etc.), patients, hospital administrators, administrative staff, the patient’s family members or caregivers, pharmaceutical reps

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Nursing is a rewarding career, but it also requires long hours and can be emotionally draining. Someone in a difficult work environment who is unable to move up or change specialty areas may begin to feel stifled and dissatisfied.
  • Esteem and Recognition: A nurse in the frequent company of a condescending doctor or disapproving relatives may come to doubt herself and her chosen profession.
  • Love and Belonging: A nurse who becomes too emotionally attached to her patients may have a hard time becoming attached to others. Or she might connect with her patients in an attempt to keep from having to open up to the people in her life, either creating or reinforcing a void in this area.
  • Safety and Security: Safety could become an issue for a nurse who works in a dangerous part of town, treats volatile patients, or who doesn’t practice sufficient self-care.

Common Work-Related Settings: Break room, cruise ship, emergency room, hospital (interior), hospital room, living room, nursing home, psychiatric ward, refugee camp, waiting room

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: While there are more men in the nursing field than ever before, most people still associate this career with women. Whatever the gender, make sure that your nurse has a combination of interesting and meaningful attributes and flaws. You can also switch things up by placing your nurse in an unusual location, such as a refugee camp, psyche ward, or boarding school.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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