Thursday, 30 April 2015

Book Review: Sue Barton Student Nurse by Helen Dore Boylston

This is the story of Sue Barton's first year of training as a probationer and then as a student nurse. Sue, with her red hair and eager spirit, is a very likable person - direct, outspoken, capable of mistakes, capable also of warm attachments and a courageous devotion to the service which she soon loves. With her pals, Kit and Connie, she submits to the discipline and rigorous training which are required of every good hospital nurse. Her love of humor gets her in and out of several scrapes: she tumbles into the laundry chute; she tries to defend her fellow student from the inevitable hazing; she gets into an amusing pickle with an Italian patient who speaks no English. Her warm heart and delightful spirit make friends for her among the patients and even win the occasional approbation of the stern staff. Her femininity has more than a casual effect on Dr. Barry, the ablest of the young interns.

Sue's student years are alive with color and incident: the tests which she must pass to win her cap; the mistakes, very human in themselves, which almost ruin her career; her struggle with a delirious patient, a struggle which tries her courage to the utmost; Christmas in the hospital, when the entire staff comes together for one spontaneous celebration. Whether or not a reader has the ambition to become a nurse, she will find in this story a true picture of the training school of a great hospital and a heart warming friendship with a fun, joyous young woman.

My Review:
Sue leaves home for a new life and career as a nurse, starting three months of probation that need to be survived in order for her to make it to the rank of Student Nurse. She faces the scary Miss Cameron, angry patients and the night shifts from Hell with the help of her devoted friends Kit and Connie, and the friendship of young Dr Bill Barry.

I first read this book way back in the 80's after a long spell in hospital and I was fascinated by this story. It is set in the 1930's in an urban hospital in the USA though it feels like it is set in England. The way the characters talk had me convinced that it was English but Sue herself is from New Hampshire and Connie from Chicago...

I'm actually surprised that there haven't been more up to date series about nursing as this series was a huge best seller. I don't know the location of this fictional hospital but there is a lot of talk about slums, domestic violence and eccentric foreign patients. I doubt I could have the patience or dedication to do Sue's job!

Sue is bright, funny and kind, the sort of person that you would want as your best friend. She throws herself into her job with enthusiasm but fears that she might not have what it takes to be a good nurse, especially after a poor performance on her first spell of night shift. Connie is the rich girl who is looking for some meaning in her life and is treated coldly by the other nurses who think she is just there to pass some time until she gets bored. Kit is the outspoken one who doesn't care what others think of her. along with swotty Willie, scared Hilda and a host of other nurses, we follow their adventures through their first year.

There is good humour in the book. Sue trying to hide from an angry patient and falling down a laundry chute. Miss Cameron losing her rag with the entire class over missing equipment. Sue being chased by Tony the Greek laundryman. There were also some touching moments where Connie wins over her critics and Willie gets taken down a few pegs by Miss Cameron.   

I liked the characters and the setting. The author does a good job of describing the hospitals that I've known-draughty and cold in winter, stifling hot in summer! You feel as if you are there with the girls and experiencing the highs and lows of the nursing carreer. You don't have to be interested in nursing to enjoy these short light reads. I look forward to the rest of Sue's adventures!

star rating photo: Three Star Rating 3stars.png


  1. This sounds like something I would totally read! Plus I think my mom might like it too. Great review. I agree there should be more nursing-related fiction books. All of the medical ones these days are from a doctor's POV and that gets tiring haha

    1. They are light fun reads...I'm now getting through the rest of the series and still enjoying them.