Emergency Room Romance


Imagine conducting serious medical research in a bathing suit and sunglasses, stretched out on a beach towel, with a pile of romance novels as your weighty subject matter. This was the enviable challenge undertaken by Irish physician Brendan Kelly. Published in the October 27 issue of The Lancet, Kelly's findings identified common themes among a selection of twenty medical romance novels. He sought to uncover whether the increasingly popular genre of medical romance has any grounding in fact.

By now, we're all fairly familiar with the story-telling recipe. Stressed-out, heroic doctors and nurses on the sets of ER, Grey's Anatomy, and even Lost fuel the racy mythology. We're told that the high drama of emergency medicine automatically translates to passionate encounters between medical professionals. Bearing these worn-out plotlines in mind, Kelly's conclusions were as predictable as his reading material. The reality of nurses' lives look a whole lot less like the daytime soaps playing in our patient waiting rooms than medical romances would have us believe.

According to the novels that Kelly read during his two week vacation, falling in love over the operating table is almost commonplace. In fact, one is led to believe that "passionate encounters are inevitable among doctors and nurses working in emergency medicine." While the romantic recipe is an ancient one - dark, handsome, stoic man with deep emotional wounds falls for beautiful, skilled and strong woman while grappling with a life-and-death scenario - the use of medical settings for romance novel backdrops is gaining international momentum.

Romantic novelists tend to give medicine's professional stereotypes a workout. The majority of the heroes in these novels, for example, are surgeons, ER specialists, and primary care doctors. There wasn't a psychiatrist protagonist in any of his novels, a point that Dr. Kelly, a psychiatrist, was quick to point out. The object of the doctor-heroes' super-charged affection was, in eleven cases, a female physician. The doctor-nurse pairing, well versed in film, literature, as well as real life, accounted for eight of the twenty selected romances. Novelists portrayed nurses, according to Kelly's analysis, as "tough but caring." All relationships were, true to formula, heterosexual.

Of course, the phenomenon of nurses partnering with nurses and nurses partnering with physicians is not thoroughly fiction, as we well know. While it does seem to hold true that medical professionals, particularly during residencies and training programs, often spend more time at work than at home and more time with coworkers than with family members, the extremely close relationships that develop among hospital staff do not invariably lead to steamy call room encounters. And yet, who better to understand the challenges, demands, and rewards of emotionally-strained careers in medicine than those working in similar environments? Interestingly, Dr. Kelly himself married a fellow physician.

After a rigorous analysis of the data, Kelly noted that the day-to-day drama in doctors' offices and hospital floors were, via the imaginations of his chosen novelists, glamorized beyond recognition. He added, however, that the publication of this "tongue-in-cheek" study generated a level of interest unprecedented by any of his more scholarly publications. No surprise there. We're all suckers for a good story.


Gardner, Amanda. (10/25/07). Hospital Romance May Largely Be Fiction: Life on the ward doesn't match plots of steamy novels, one doctor says. National Health Information Center. < http://www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.asp?docid=609415> Accessed 11/7/07.

Lovesick doctors need "training". BBC News. Accessed 11/7/07.

Copyright 2007- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

Image Captcha