Nurses should have annual physical and psychological testing to ensure they are up to the demands of the job, nurses say.
The check-ups could take place alongside the normal appraisal, the Royal College of Nursing conference in Liverpool heard.
Nurses said there were more checks on basic equipment than on NHS staff.
And they said the move would help the profession set a good example to the rest of the population.
Those found wanting should be given support by occupational health teams to tackle their problems, they said.
Claire Topham-Brown, a critical care nurse from Peterborough, said: "There is no denying that nursing is a physically demanding job. You do need a certain level of physical fitness.
"One of our activists observed that we take better care of wheelchairs than we do of the staff. Bizarre but true, we now risk-assess everything, yearly, monthly, weekly and sometimes daily. But when do we ever assess that vital, delicate and most valuable part of the machine?"
She was supported by other nurses, including Karen Webb, the RCN's director of the eastern region of England.
She suggested the testing and support was even more important given the expansion in nurses in training in recent years, which could lead to an increase in those that are unsuitable for a career in nursing.
"It is about making sure people have the right attributes."
The call comes amid a drive to tackle staff sickness in the NHS.
The government's NHS Health and Wellbeing report published a year ago said the health service needed to do more to improve the health of staff.
NHS staff take an average of 10.7 days off work a year - more than the public sector average and much higher than the 6.4 figure for the private sector.
In total, staff sickness costs the NHS £1.7bn a year.