6

TLDR: Why is the only nurse we encounter in the wizarding world Madam Pomfrey?

Throughout the Harry Potter books, Madam Pomfrey is described as both "the school nurse" and the matron:

From Book 1:

Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was a nice woman, but very strict.

From Book 6:

He [Harry] had been intending to visit Madam Pomfrey, the matron, in whom he had a little more confidence when it came to Healing Spells…


The Harry Potter series also describes Healers, which seem to be analogous to Muggle doctors. For example, in Book 5, when they're visiting St. Mungo's to see Mr. Weasley:

Witches and wizards in lime-green robes were walking up and down the rows, asking questions and making notes on clipboards like Umbridge’s. Harry noticed the emblem embroidered on their chests: a wand and bone, crossed.

“Are they doctors?” he asked Ron quietly.

“Doctors?” said Ron, looking startled. “Those Muggle nutters that cut people up? Nah, they’re Healers.”

Interestingly, however, no nurses are mentioned at being at St. Mungo's. The closest seems to be the "Welcome Witch" directing people to the various floors:

“Over here!” called Mrs. Weasley…and they followed her to the queue in front of a plump blonde witch seated at a desk marked inquiries.

See also the sign describing her:

If you are unsure where to go, incapable of normal speech, or unable to remember why you are here, our Welcome Witch will be pleased to help.

However, she's not explicitly named as a witch.

In St. Mungo's, the healers seem to be doing triage in the "ER" by walking up and down the rows.


Doing some research, it seems that matrons are found at both schools and hospitals, so Madam Pomfrey's role at Hogwarts seems to make sense. However, why do we not encounter nurses anywhere else? In fact, the only other mention of nurses I could find in the books was the head nurse at Smelting's, Dudley's Muggle boarding school:

The diet sheet that had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge…

It seems that the only nurse we encounter (at least in the novels) is Madam Pomfrey. Why would there be no nurses at St. Mungo's? Do Healers fulfill the purposes of both doctors and nurses?

Tangentially related: It seems that there are conditions Madam Pomfrey is unable to handle, and must send the patient to St. Mungo's for:

  • In Book 5, McGonagall was sent to St. Mungo's after being hit by multiple Stunning charms.
  • Also in Book 5, Tonks had to spend additional time in St. Mungo's after the final confrontation at the Ministry.
  • In Book 6, Katie (after touching the locket through her glove) was treated by Snape, then sent to St. Mungo's.

Related questions: - Healing magic in Harry Potter universe?: Does not specifically deal with healers vs. nurses - In Harry Potter, are house-elves being used as nurses?: Discusses house-elves healing people, but not in any kind of official capacity

  • 1
    Madam Pomfrey isn't the School Nurse, she's the Matron. I can't recall an instance where she's referred to as the former in the books – Valorum Jan 4 at 19:40
  • 5
    The UK edition reads "Madam Pomfrey, the matron, was a nice woman, but very strict". I suspect this has more to do with the average American not knowing what a Matron is. – Valorum Jan 4 at 19:43
  • 3
    Has anyone besides Harry (in his internal narration) referred to her as the school nurse? Perhaps she's technically the school Healer, and he's just looking at it like a Muggle school? – Adamant Jan 4 at 19:44
  • 2
    @Adamant - In the UK editions she's consistently referred to as the School Matron, an actual position found in British boarding schools. This is a woman (typically) who has responsibility for the health and well-being of the pupils and the smooth running of the domestic side of school life. – Valorum Jan 4 at 19:45
  • 1
    @Valorum: Do the UK editions mention "nurse" at all? – Zack Jan 4 at 20:02
2

Short answer: The original (UK) editions never refer to Pomfrey as a nurse, only as a matron. Presumably (although I'm unaware of any canon that states this: Please let me know if you're aware of any), Healers in the wizarding world take the place of both doctors and nurses. In fact, the only person referred to as a nurse in the UK editions is the Smeltings school nurse (thanks to @Valorum for providing the global book search):

nurse search

Of course, in the US editions (which is the only one my Yankee self is in posession of), Pomfrey is referred to multiple times as the Hogwarts nurse. This could be attributed to editors preparing the US editions who were worried that US readers might not know what a matron is. Interestingly, however, the editor seems to have missed one mention in Book 6, where the US edition still refers to Pomfrey as the matron:

He [Harry] had been intending to visit Madam Pomfrey, the matron, in whom he had a little more confidence when it came to Healing Spells…

Interestingly, in the real UK, school matrons are generally not clinical, and are very limited in what medical care they can provide.

Thanks to @Valorum for providing cultural background on matronx, and performing the global searches. Thanks also to @Adamant for providing a possible in-universe explanation for why the US editions refer to Pomfrey as a nurse: Harry, whose perspective the books follow, might confuse her as a nurse since that's what he's used to (in the Muggle world).

  • 1
    Perhaps the editor didn't bother to change it in Book 6 because the term "matron" is anyway used elsewhere in the book where "nurse" would not be an appropriate replacement. – Alex Jan 6 at 4:04
2

Consider what a school nurse can do - triage kids, administer basic meds to common maladies (in reality, give over the counter meds for aches and pains), and refer to a hospital or pediatrician. Considering her usual nonplussed attitude to all of the kids’ illness, many of the injuries she saw were common to her I.e. quidditch accidents, common hexes. In the case of Ron’s poisoning in HP6, one might argue that Ron was already treated with a bezoar and did not need further treatment at Mungos; thus, observing his stable recovery would not be out of the scope of Madam Pompey’s. At least, that’s how I’ve always interpreted it (US reader)

  • 1
    I think Madam Pomfrey a lot of times goes well beyond what a typical nurse (especially school nurse) does, at least in the US. From what I've heard, school nurses aren't even allowed to administer OTC medications anymore, only what a doctor has already prescribed. But Pomfrey administers various medications throughout the series of her own accord, and is responsible for students staying in the hospital wing for recuperation. – Zack Jan 7 at 12:51

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.