As Megan Frampton reported in a Heroes and Heartbreakers post in May, neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam concluded, after analyzing 15,000 Harlequin novels, that the most popular profession for romance heroes was that of doctor.
I have my doubts that the conclusion would be the same if Ogas and Gaddam had analyzed 15,000 single title romances, just as I have doubts that Irish physician Dr. Brendan Kelly’s conclusion about doctors in romance novels, reported in The Lancet (October 2007), would hold true had he used more than a token twenty romance novels in his research. Dr. Kelly concluded that the prescription for romance was “brilliant, tall, muscular, male doctors with chiseled features” + emergency room work + personal tragedy in the doctor’s life + the introduction of another doctor or a nurse as a love interest.
I do have fond memories of heroic doctors in fiction, going all the way back to Gilbert Blythe in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne books. But not all of my favorite doctors who behave heroically are male, not all of them are twenty-first century practioners, and not all of them are surgeons or ER specialists. Only one of my favorites is paired with another medical professional.
Here’s my list, in order of publication since I couldn’t stop waffling when I tried ordering them by preference.
1. For Now, Forever (1987) by Nora Roberts: Dr. Anna Whitfield MacGregor fights against class expectations, gender prejudices—and Daniel MacGregor’s determination to make her his wife—to become a doctor.
2. Libby’s London Merchant (1991) by Carla Kelly: Dr. Anthony Cook, a gentle bumbler and dedicated physician wins the hero stakes when Libby finally chooses him over an aristocrat disguised as a merchant.
3. Till the Stars Fall (1994) by Kathleen Gilles Seidel: Dr. Quinn Hunter, orthopedist, also composer, writer, and former rock star, who is reunited with the cinnamon-haired girl of his most popular songs, a divorcee with four sons.
4. Father To Be (1999) by Marilyn Pappano: Dr. J. D. Grayson, psychiatrist, alcoholic in recovery, and father to an estranged son and a foster brood, breaks all the rules by falling in love with the social worker assigned to the case of his foster children.
5. The You I Never Knew (2001) by Susan Wiggs: Sam McPhee, small-town family practitioner, rancher, and former rodeo cowboy, is reunited with his first love and the son he never knew he had.
6. Some Men’s Dreams (2003) by Kathleen Korbel: Dr. Genevieve Kendall, resident, and Dr. John Parker O’Neill, the new chief of pediatric critical care, whose professional relationship and disagreement about the eating disorder of O’Neill’s young daughter present them with great obstacles.
7. Not Quite a Husband (2009) by Sherry Thomas: Dr. Bryony Asquith, a doctor at a time when women doctors were rare, practices in Germany, America, and, finally, the Rumbur Valley on the Indian frontier, where she is reunited with the younger, celebrated man to whom she was once married.
8. Moonlight Road (2010) by Robyn Carr: Dr. Aidan Riordan, a Navy ob/gyn for 14 years, is taking a break before he decides where he’s going to set up a civilian practice when he meets attorney Erin Foley and send her straight to the emergency room.
9. When Beauty Tamed the Beast (2011), Eloisa James: Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchant is a brilliant diagnostician who scorns the medical establishment and learns to be a better man and a better doctor when he falls in love with Linnet Thynne, a Beauty who has lost a prince and her reputation.
10. My Favorite Countess (2011), Vanessa Kelly: Dr. John Blackmore, an accoucheur, the 19th-century version of an obstetrician, challenges established medical practices and ignores those who warn him against the house calls he makes to patients in London’s most dangerous slums, but he can’t ignore Bathsheba Compton, the widowed Countess of Randolph, a heroine in need of redemption.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.