50 Enlightening & Inspiring Books Every Nurse Needs to Read

It is a fact that the busy nurse does not have much time for leisure reading. That being said, a good book can do so much to enrich your life that even the busiest nurse should take the time to check out our list of 50 enlightening and inspiring books every nurse should read. On this list, you’ll find books that are extremely specific to nursing, and books that seem to have nothing to do with nursing at all. You’ll also find diverse biographies of nurse-heroes: from Clara Barton to nurses who served after Hurricane Katrina. Most of all, you’ll find insightful writing that will surely enrich your daily work as a nurse. Enjoy!

Inspiring Stories Of and From Real-Life Nurses

    1. NURSE: A World of Care by Peter Jaret : A breathtaking photographic and written essay on the way nurses heal, help, and inspire others, this book was the 2008 AJN Book of the Year. You’ll read and see portraits of nurses doing their important work from Alaska to Thailand.

    2. SISTER JANET: Nurse and Heroine of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 by Brian Best and Katie Stossel : A gripping story of an unlikely heroine who went beyond what the expectations of others to impact many lives. Janet Well was the only nurse sent to the front in the Anglo-Zulu War. What she endured and achieved before the age of 20 is truly inspiring.

    3. A Nurse’s Story by Tilda Shalof : Real-world accounts from the first-person perspective bring this story of life in a Canadian hospital into sharp focus. Shalof’s writing allows us to see the suffering, hard work, and even humor that nurses experience on a daily basis.

    4. Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not by Florence Nightingale : Nightingale’s classic writings on nursing reveal the lessons learned through hardship and perseverance. An inspiring read for any new or experienced nurse from the “mother of modern nursing.”

    5. Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon by Mark Bostridge : Bostridge’s thorough and well-researched biography of Florence Nightingale will surely be inspiring to nurses everywhere. Previously unknown details about this pioneering nurse will help you understand her upbringing and personal life.

    6. Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War by Stephen B. Oates : Much is still unknown about Clara Barton, the “angel of the battlefield” who began the American Red Cross. However, Stephen B. Oates does a remarkable job unearthing Barton’s life and legacy in this biography.

    7. Nursing in the Storm: Voices from Hurricane Katrina by Denise Danna, DNS, RN and Sandra E. Cordray : Nurses from six hospitals that were cut off by the flooding from Hurricane Katrina describe the unbelievable conditions and inspiring stories in the storm’s aftermath. Danna and Cordray conclude the book with lessons from the storm and ways health care professionals can better prepare for crises.

    8. Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse by Kate Cumming : Kate Cumming was a nurse serving the Confederate army. Her words are captivating, as we have so few first-hand accounts from nurses on the front line during the Civil War. She takes the time to tell the stories of the men she cares for, as well as gives her thoughts and opinions on the events of the time.

    9. We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth M. Norman : For nurses stationed in the Philippines in the fall of 1941, life was a tropical paradise filled with fresh papayas, swimming, and golf. Little did they know how soon things would change. Norman’s masterful tale follows the stories of ninety-nine American nurses held captive by the Japanese after the fall of Bataan.

    10. Reaching Past the Wire: A Nurse at Abu Ghraib by Deanna Germain with Connie Lounsbury : Lt. Col. Germain’s narrative of life as a nurse supervisor in the Abu Ghraib camp sheds new light on the Iraq war. Through mortar attacks, terrible living conditions, shortages of medical supplies, and a constant language barrier, Germain treated both wounded and sick American soldiers as well as Iraqis.

    11. Answering the Call: Nurses of Post 122 by Theodora Aggeles, RN : Aggeles’ book sheds light on the terrible conditions faced by young, inexperienced nurses who volunteered for military service. These nurses, serving in WWII, the Korean War, and in Vietnam, faced horrors they never would have imagined and served with honor and grace.

    12. The Glow of My Lamp: A Nurse Shares Her Life by Judith Gadness Sharp : Judith Sharp’s memoir was written to show people everywhere that nursing is a career with rewards and opportunities that are boundless. After choosing nursing, a career that she considered “practical,” she was able to explore her creative interests as well.

    13. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder : From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder comes this story of Dr. Paul Farmer, an expert on infectious diseases. Farmer has tirelessly worked in countries such as Haiti, Peru, Russia, and Rwanda to help people in poverty obtain the medicines they need.

Stories of Inspiring Patients

    14. Josie’s Story: A Mother’s Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe by Sorrel King : Josie King was a happy, curious 17-month-old when she suffered hot water burns in an accident at home. On the day she was scheduled to be released from Johns Hopkins, she died as a result of medical error. This is her mother’s story of grief and purpose… how to prevent this from happening to others.

    15. Impaired: A Nurse’s Story of Addiction and Recovery by Patricia Holloran : Holloran’s story of addiction and recovery is not unlike thousands played out daily in America. What is unusual is that she was a labor and delivery nurse when she became addicted—using Stadol, a commonly prescribed narcotic for labor, to help her sleep. Her story of being able to keep her addiction secret for such a long time due to her inside knowledge of the field is at once heartbreaking and enlightening.

    16. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch : Pausch, a former Carnegie Mellon professor, gave one last lecture at the university after his pancreatic cancer had advanced beyond a cure. The lecture was about achieving your childhood dreams. He would be doubtless happy to know how many people his words have inspired—what a legacy!

    17. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot : Henrietta Lacks was nobody famous during her life. But her cells, taken without her consent during the 1950s, have lasted on for many generations and been the subject of over 60,000 research studies. Skloot’s riveting read traces the HeLa cell line and shows us what happened when Lacks’ living relatives found out about her legacy.

    18. Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox : Feeling overwhelmed with your life? Come with Michael J. Fox, the former actor and Parkinson’s activist, as he recounts his journey with Parkinson’s disease. You’ll be inspired by his positive outlook and by his ability to learn something from even the most challenging situations.

    19. Don’t Leave Me This Way: Or When I Get Back On My Feet You’ll Be Sorry by Julia Fox Garrison : Julia Fox Garrison was 37 when she suffered a debilitating stroke. This is her story of how she fought with doctors and nurses to get a proper diagnosis, how she ignored their pronouncements of doom, and how she eventually learned to walk again.

    20. Still Alice by Lisa Genova, Ph.D. : Written by Lisa Genova, Ph.D., a Harvard-degreed neurologist, Still Alice is a devastating portrait of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her well-researched book follows a college professor who suddenly has to deal with memory loss at the age of 50, after finding herself lost in her own neighborhood.

    21. Brain Attack! by Paulina Perez, RN with Marsha Rehns : This amazing first-person account of having a stroke, the subsequent loss of function, and the recovery process is not to be missed. Nurses will be inspired by the author’s strength, and they will learn about the stroke survivor’s point of view.

    22. In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing by Lee & Bob Woodruff :
    You will probably recognize the name Bob Woodruff from his work as an ABC News anchor, but after reading this engaging book, you will remember his wife Lee as well. When Bob was covering the war in Iraq, his tank was hit by an improvised explosive device, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. All nurses will be inspired by this family’s strength and courage.

Resources For A Nurse’s Life and Work

    23. Too Busy For Your Own Good: Get More Done in Less Time with Even More Energy by Connie Merritt : Connie Merritt was doing it all… until she was hospitalized with a panic attack. Realizing she had to do something about it for her health and her sanity, she learned how to re-prioritize and be less busy. She shares her secrets in this book.

    24. How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Your Life as a Nurse, by Kelli S. Dunham, RN, BSN, and Staci J. Smith, RN-C : This book helps new nurses meet the challenges of the workplace. The light tone of the book makes subjects like dealing with difficult people, managing finances, and making career choices all seem less challenging.

    25. Becoming You: An Owner’s Manual for Creating Personal Happiness by Brenda Marshall, EdD, MSN, APN : In her inspiring book, Marshall hopes to help people realize that being happy isn’t something that just happens to you, it’s a skill that people develop during their lives. Some people learn, and some people never learn. Create personal happiness by applying her simple “rules” for goal-setting, accepting change, and most of all, examining your own behavior patterns and choosing to change them.

    26. How Not To Die: Surprising Lessons on Living Longer, Safer, and Healthier by Jan Garavaglia, M.D. : TV’s “Dr. G” gives us some interesting insight on ways we might prevent a premature death. Lessons she has learned will inspire you to make safer, healthier choices in your own life. Learn why you should never drive around with your windows half open, for example.

    27. The Journey Called You: A Roadmap to Self Discovery and Acceptance by Julie Fuimano : Many times, we search for meaning without understanding where we are at the beginning. Julie Fuimano went through this process in her own life, and discovered she needed to get to know herself and her own unique gifts. Her book is designed to help you do the same.

    28. Helping Children Overcome Fear in a Medical Setting by Rob Luka, RN : This book, written by an RN with over 30 years of experience, gives excellent guidance on helping children deal with their fears. His inspiring words will help doctors and nurses everywhere be better equipped when a child is afraid.

    29. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande : The Checklist Manifesto is a stirring call for health-care reform starting with a simple piece of paper, the checklist. The author, a surgeon, explores the benefits of using checklists in a world where the demands on the minds of professionals have never been greater. He takes a look at famous checklists and the way everyone can use checklists to improve their daily work and life.

    30. Your 1st Year As A Nurse by Donna Cardillo, RN : This book is recommended for first year nurses as well as seasoned professionals. Stories from real life interspersed with advice and reassurance will inspire any nurse to make each day count. Learn how to stay positive even in difficult situations.

    31. The Nurse Manager’s Guide to Hiring, Firing & Inspiringby Vicki Hess, RN, MS : Navigate the difficult seas of being a nurse manager with this book from Vicki Hess . Her experiences informs this practical guide for hiring the right people, putting out “fires” on your staff, and working with administration.

    32. A Daybook for Critical Care Nurses by Ellen Gallen Bademan, BSN, RN : Critical care nurses have special needs, since they deal with such difficult situations on a daily basis. This book offers tips, inspiration, and journal space for recording your own feelings. The essays for each month will help you reflect on the meaning of your calling as a nurse.

    33. Fit Nurse: Your Total Plan for Getting Fit and Living Well by Gary Scholar, M.Ed. : In this book, nurses can learn how to take care of their own fitness. So many times, busy professionals do a good job at work, and neglect their own physical fitness. There is a way to eat right and stay healthy!

    34. 101 Global Leadership Lessons for Nurses Nancy Rollins Gantz, MSN, RN, PhD, MBA, NE-BC, MRCNA, Editor : Leaders in healthcare face many different challenges, from managing resources to negotiating and keeping balance between work and home life. Each chapter of this book is written by a mentor and mentee.

    35. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. : Nurses, like many professionals, have to deal with constant change in the workplace. Discover who you are when it comes to change and how you can handle change more gracefully when you read this classic book.

More Inspiration For Nurses :

    36. Inspired Nurse by Rich Bluni, RN : Rich Bluni wrote his book to help nurses everywhere keep the fire going—the inspiration that drove them to become a nurse. His inspirational “action items” sprinkled throughout the book will help nurses take charge and become actively involved in their renewal process.

    37. A Healing Touch: True Stories of Life, Death, and Hospice edited by Richard Russo : Richard Russo and five other acclaimed Maine writers have each contributed a moving story to this anthology. Winner of a 2009 Silver Award by the Independent Publishers, this collection inspires us to look at hospice in a new way, and to recognize the value of such care.

    38. A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen : Will Bowen, a minister in Kansas City, Missouri, believes that we can have a complaint-free world by focusing on the positive things in our lives each day. His book launched a campaign for people to wear bracelets and move them from one wrist to the other each time they catch themselves complaining.

    39. Daily Miracles: Stories and Practices of Humanity and Excellence in Health Care by Alan Briskin and Jan Boller : This beautifully photographed book follows twenty-one nurses as they do things (sometimes vey small) that show caring and help restore humanity to patients in need. It was awarded a “Book of the Year” for 2007 by the American Journal of Nursing.

    40. Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Nancy Mitchell Autio, R.N., and LeAnn Thieman, L.P.N. : This entry in the popular series offers 101 uplifting and inspirational stories that will surely touch the heart of any nurse.

    41. The Last Adventure of Life: Sacred Resources for Living and Dying from a Hospice Counselor by Maria Dancing Heart : Maria Dancing Heart has been a hospice counselor for many years, and she aims to bring death out of a dark, fearful place into a place of healing with her book. Nurses of all specialities need to know how to help others deal with death, as it can happen at any time.

    42. The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death edited by Susan Pories, MD, Sachin H. Jain, and Gordon Harper, MD : Nurses will appreciate these first-hand accounts of the way third-year medical students at Harvard react when suddenly thrust into real-life situations. In situations where their decisions suddenly have consequences, these doctors-in-training have to grow up quickly.

    43. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin : Greg Mortenson was trying to climb K2, Pakistan’s highest mountain, when he stumbled into a remote village, nearly freezing to death and completely disoriented. As the people nursed him back to health, he noticed that the children had no school. He promised to return and build them one. This is his story; inspiring to everyone, not just nurses.

    44. Spiritual Dimensions of Nursing Practice by Verna Benner Carson and Harold G. Koenig, Editors : Most nurses have encountered a time when caring for a patient went beyond caring for the body, but caring for the person’s spirit. This book was written to help nurses better deal with this role, to combine nursing discipline with spiritual care, and to understand different faith backgrounds.

    45. Meditations on Hope: Nurses’ Stories about Motivation and Inspiration by Paula M. Sergi, BSN, MFA and Geraldine Gorman, PhD, RN, Editors : This collection of powerful real-life stories will inspire and uplift nurses, whether they are just beginning a career or feeling “stuck in a rut.” See first-hand the impact nurses have on individual patients and on the community as a whole, and be proud of your profession.

    46. Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman : This classic New Age text shows a young man as he struggles to know his purpose in life. Millman’s life lessons that he shares have relevance to all of us, and any nurse, regardless of religious affiliation, will find this book thought-provoking and uplifting.

    47. What it Takes to Be #1 by Vince Lombardi, Jr. : Vince Lombardi, Jr. explores the leadership principles and the lessons for winning that he learned from his father, the late Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packer fame. You may not think football has anything to do with nursing, but that’s where you’re wrong. Nursing means being a leader, every day.

    48. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom : Mitch Albom wrote this book after rediscovering Morrie Schwartz, one of his favorite college professors, at the end of Schwartz’s life. They met each Tuesday, and their conversations became the last lessons from professor to student. Inspiration for everyone in this book.

    49. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult : This novel about a girl who was specifically conceived to help cure her sister’s leukemia poses some interesting ethical questions. How much right does she have to her own body? It was adapted for the screen in 2009.

    50. Bedlam Among the Bedpans: Humor in Nursing by Amy Y. Young : Young’s collection of short vignettes will help you any time you desperately need to laugh about being a nurse. Don’t forget, any job, no matter how serious it seems, has its humorous, lighter moments. Amy Young is a master of uncovering these in her book.