Nurses have been regarded as tough and hard-working since Clara Barton provided care on the battlefields of the Civil War—she once removed a bullet from a soldier's face after the Battle of Antietam!
While Barton is famous for her career as a nurse, many one-time nurses are better known for other work. For instance, the poet Walt Whitman was also a volunteer nurse during the Civil War. He initially traveled to Washington, D.C., to nurse his injured brother but remained to care for wounded soldiers until the war ended two years later.
Famed abolitionist Sojourner Truth served as a nurse during her enslavement. After slavery ended, she advocated for nursing education as part of the Freedman's Relief Association.
While such famous former nurses seem relegated to the past, the profession has continued to attract caregivers who have gone on to become household names.
Among the (more current) famous people you never knew were nurses:
Kate Gosselin is best known for TV reality series about her life as a mom of eight children: one set of twins and their younger sextuplet siblings. So perhaps it's no surprise that Gosselin worked as a labor and delivery nurse in Pennsylvania until 2004. As recently as 2009, Gosselin renewed her nursing license – as a backup career.
Emmy-nominated actress Bonnie Hunt delayed her Hollywood dream of writing when her father insisted she attend nursing school. When he died of a heart attack during her schooling, she found comfort in a patient talking about a great friend who had just died, not realizing the man was talking about her own father. She worked for five years as an oncology nurse while moonlighting with the Second City improve troupe. She eventually moved to California, starring in several TV shows and films including Cheaper By The Dozen.
Adrian Holmes is likely best known to American audiences for playing a clone on Smallville and a police captain on Arrow. But before those roles (and a Canadian Screen Award for the drama 19-2), Holmes completed nursing school in Vancouver, British Columbia. He describes his time at a spine unit before his career took off as humbling, making him appreciate his success as his acting career took off.
You likely know Robin Quivers as the laughing sidekick to Howard Stern, providing both the news and a sense of grounding for the popular radio show. But before building her broadcast brand, Quivers enlisted in the Air Force armed with a nursing degree from the University of Maryland. A trauma nurse, she rose to the rank of captain before being discharged in 1978, three years before becoming the news anchor for Stern's morning show. She remained a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1990.
As icons go, few rival Tina Turner. One of the world's best-selling recording artists, with 12 Grammy Awards to her name, she's as well known for her energetic performances as for her powerful vocals. And, for a brief period after high school, Turner worked as a nurse's aide at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Though she abandoned her plan of becoming a practical nurse once her music career took off, we're still counting her as a nurse because, well, icon.
English actress Julie Walters has been nominated for (and has won quite a few of) acting's greatest awards, including Oscars and Golden Globes, in a career that has spanned four decades across film, television and theater. But before she rose to international prominence – she may be best known as Ron Weasley's mom in the Harry Potter film series – she spent 18 months working in the casualty, coronary and ophthalmology departments of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. In 2017, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her service to drama.
As one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kim Zolciak is best known for her wigs, her catfights and her marriage to former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Kroy Biermann. But before she moved to Johns Creek, she earned a nursing degree from the University of Connecticut and worked as a licensed practical nurse.
Martha Jane Cannary
OK, one last historical celebrity: Martha Jane Cannary, better known as folk hero Calamity Jane, is remembered for frontier fearlessness, sharp shooting and her generally unconventional life. But she also proved to be a devoted, round-the-clock nurse to smallpox patients during an outbreak in South Dakota. She may have developed an immunity to the lethal virus after surviving it in childhood.
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