The Good Nurse True Story: What Netflix Gets Right & What It Changes

Contains a discussion of Charles Cullen’s real-life crimes, including murder.

Warning: Contains spoilers for The Good Nurse. Netflix’s The Good Nurse is a mostly accurate portrayal of the true story behind it, with some minor changes and fictionalizations of the real events, and here’s The Good Nurse true story explained. Netflix’s true crime drama tells the story of Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), a single mother and nurse who is diagnosed with a heart condition. Loughren meets Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), who she quickly befriends. When the state police are called to investigate a series of mysterious deaths at the hospital, Loughren grows increasingly suspicious of Cullen and becomes instrumental in bringing about the serial killer’s arrest and eventual confession to the murder of at least 40 people.

Telling the story through Loughren’s perspective, The Good Nurse’s chief focus is not on the crimes of the infamous serial killer, but on the breakdown of a friendship and the traumatic impact of discovering someone close to you is a cold-blooded murderer. Unlike other Netflix true crime stories, The Good Nurse reveals little about Cullen’s life or crimes before he meets Loughren, instead focusing on his final murders and arrest in 2003. While it only covers a small portion of Cullen’s story, the film is a strikingly accurate portrayal of the months leading up to his arrest and Loughren’s crucial role in them. Here’s The Good Nurse true story explained.

Is Amy Loughren Real & Were She And Charles Cullen Friends?

In The Good Nurse true story, Amy Loughren is a real person who currently works as a reiki master and hypnotherapist, among many other things. She was indeed a registered nurse who worked in an ICU alongside Charles Cullen and did suffer from cardiomyopathy, which she kept from her colleagues. As revealed in the film’s ending credits, Loughren underwent experimental heart surgery in 2008 and her health has since improved. Loughren, a single mother of two children, is now a grandmother. She was actually involved in filming The Good Nurse before helping with the film’s publicity, lending to its authenticity.

Loughren (one of Jessica Chastain’s best movie characters) and Cullen really were close friends during their time as colleagues in The Good Nurse true story. Cullen worked with Loughren at the hospital and did indeed help her conceal her heart condition from her colleagues. Recalling her relationship with Cullen, Loughren revealed (via NJ Advance Media) that “Charlie and I were very trauma-bonded in the same way that soldiers bond…I had a relationship with him that was very fun, very funny. We would banter, and he was one of the closest people to me.

The Good Nurse accurately depicts this kind of workplace camaraderie with the two sharing light-hearted conversations about significant episodes in their lives. While their relationship was close in The Good Nurse true story, the film does exaggerate Cullen’s relationship with Loughren’s children. Her children did know about Cullen, but there is no evidence that they ever met him or that Cullen ever visited Loughren’s home. Addressing this issue in an interview (via Digital Spy) Loughren explained that writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns added this detail as a way to “get across how close we were.

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Charles Cullen’s Life Before Meeting Amy

Charlie crying a little in The Good Nurse

In The Good Nurse true story, Loughren and Cullen bond over their respective divorces, and Cullen’s turbulent relationship with his ex-wife becomes a source of humor for the pair. As in the film, Cullen was separated from his wife Adrienne Baum for 10 years and was already the father of two daughters when he met Loughren. Baum filed a restraining order against Cullen in 1993 and claimed her ex-husband abused the family dogs and was a danger to her and her children.

This becomes a source of humor for Cullen in The Good Nurse as he paints his ex-wife to be deluded and implies she is wrongfully preventing him from seeing their children. The Good Nurse true story, however, leaves out Cullen’s history of mental illness and attempted suicide. Cullen suffered from depression for most of his childhood and adult life and attempted suicide several times during his service in the U.S. Navy. While not explicitly mentioned in the film, much of Cullen’s residual trauma is captured in one of Eddie Redmayne’s best movie performances, which Loughren herself revealed (via Sky News) “truly embodies who my friend Charlie was.”

Are The Victims & Hospital Real?

Charlie at the nurse's station in The Good Nurse

The Good Nurse true story does not use the names or stories of Cullen’s real victims. Director Tobias Lindholm and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns chose to rename the victims and subtly change their stories to avoid re-traumatizing those affected by Cullen’s crimes. As a result, Ana Martinez, whose suspicious death invites investigation by state police in the film, is a completely fictional character. In reality, it was the murder of a local priest named Florian Gall that eventually led to Cullen’s arrest and confession.

Unlike other true-crime stories like Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, The Good Nurse true story also changes the name of the hospital Cullen and Loughren worked at. In the film, Parkfield Memorial Hospital is a fictionalized version of the real Somerset Medical Center, New Jersey, where Loughren and Cullen worked in 2003. Tim Braun and Danny Baldwin, the two police detectives in the film, are, however, the real names of the detectives who investigated Cullen in real life.

Did Cullen Really Use Insulin & Digoxin to Kill His Victims?

Saline bag in The Good Nurse

In the film, Cullen murders his victims by injecting insulin and digoxin into patients’ IV bags, non-lethal medications can nonetheless induce a fatal overdose, which is exactly how Cullen committed his crimes in The Good Nurse true story. As the film shows, Cullen attained these chemicals via a fault in the hospital’s computerized drug-dispensing system. The computer’s records showed that Cullen was requesting medication for patients he was not assigned to and that many orders were rapidly canceled after request. In the film, Loughren sees Cullen perform this exact trick to surreptitiously obtain medications to treat her cardiomyopathy, which is one of the reasons she becomes suspicious of Cullen.

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How Accurate Is Charles Cullen’s Arrest & Confession?

Eddie Redmayne as Charles Cullen in The Good Nurse

The Good Nurse true story accurately portrays the real version of Cullen’s arrest and confession. As in the film, after the hospital failed to cooperate with state police, Amy Loughren approached detectives Baldwin and Braun with her suspicions surrounding Cullen. Somerset hospital, like the fictional Parkfield Memorial Hospital, also failed to contact the police for several months after the suspicious death was first reported. Likewise, the film shows the police exhuming the body of one of Cullen’s victims to perform an autopsy, which confirmed the presence of digoxin and insulin in the patient’s blood upon death.

This The Good Nurse true story event actually occurred in real life, with book author Charles Graeber noting (via USA Today), “I have photographs from that time, and it could not look more similar” in the film. In another accurate detail, Cullen was actually fired by the hospital before his arrest for the ostensible reason of lying on his job application. What’s more, Loughren really did serve as an undercover informant for the police and was instructed to meet with Cullen after work while wearing a wire. The evidence from these conversations provided the police with the probable cause they needed to arrest Cullen.

The climactic diner scene in The Good Nurse is actually based on a two-hour conversation between the two in real life. For the screenplay, Graeber provided Wilson-Cairns with transcripts from this conversation. One detail that the film changes about the true story comes in the third act when Loughren, comforting Cullen and treating him like the friend he once was to her, convinces him to confess to his crimes. In reality, Cullen cut ties with Loughren once he discovered her involvement as an undercover informant. Cullen actually confessed his crimes directly to detectives Baldwin and Braun and promised to cooperate with authorities if they did not pursue the death penalty.

How Many Murders Did Charles Cullen Commit, & Where Is He Now?

Charlie standing in The Good Nurse

Onscreen text at the end of The Good Nurse true story states that Cullen “pled guilty to the murder of 29 people. The real number of victims is believed to be as many as 400.” While Cullen was convicted of 29 murders, he actually confessed to as many as 40. The film’s suggestion that Cullen killed 400 possible victims is an accurate estimate, as Cullen would later tell authorities that he killed approximately two or three victims a week for a period of time. As the film states, Cullen is currently serving “18 consecutive life sentences in New Jersey State Prison and will not be eligible for parole until 2403.

The serial killer was initially given 11 life sentences but was given an additional six by judge William Platt when he repeatedly shouted the words “your honor, you need to step down” during his hearing, and the number has since increased to 18. Moreover, while the exact numbers vary, the most frequent estimates place the year of Cullen’s eligibility for parole at 2388 or 2403 as Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse suggests. As a whole, therefore, Netflix’s true crime drama The Good Nurse true story remains faithful to the harrowing tale while altering minor details to make its message more poignant and its emotional beats more intense.

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How The Author Of The Good Nurse Book Sees Charles Cullen

Eddie Redmayne as Charles Cullen and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren during Charlie's confession in The Good Nurse

Like all serial killers, Charles Cullen is a fascinating subject, and The Good Nurse true story did its best to follow the plot of Charles Graeber’s book, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder. In order to gather enough information for his book, the journalist had to sit down with the murderer himself in a number of unrecorded sessions to gather the full story. Graeber was the only journalist that Cullen agreed to speak to while in prison, and one of the first things that Graeber pointed out to Newsweek was that Cullen was anything but a mercy killer.

Rather, after sitting in with Cullen, Graeber believes that the murders were self-serving. Graeber stated that the mercy killing angle was taken as more of a convenience for Cullen himself. In his own mind, Cullen was acutely aware of the fact that the hospitals he was working for were somewhat privy to what he was doing, which is why he was passed around so often, since the facilities didn’t want to deal with the liability of the situation any longer. In one sense, Graeber believed that Cullen was able to justify his killings because of the hospital’s hypocrisy. However, another harrowing reason he mentioned is the following:

Another is that it worked for him, it really meant something different to him and depending on the circumstances in his life—whether his marriage was falling apart, whether the custody hearing for his children were going badly, he had felt wronged or disrespected in some ways in his personal life, or simply wasn’t feeling the spotlight of the universe was enough upon him—This was a way of sort of giving himself a little pick me up, and it really was that simple.

What must always be considered when dealing with sociopaths is that Graeber was truly only let into what Cullen was willing to let him see. In their conversations, Cullen had his own favorite topics, such as his mistreatment in the Navy or being bullied in the workplace. However, when it came to discussing the murders directly, Cullen wouldn’t be quite so forthcoming. It’s a tale as old as time when it comes to talking to serial killers, as few are truly willing to discuss their motivations at length. Either way, The Good Nurse true story stuck as closely as possible to the book and the harrowing true-crime tale itself.

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