Good afternoon all,

In Japanese there is a word called "看護師" which basically is a gender-neutral way of referring to a nurse.

I was wondering, Is there such an equivalent word in English?

Is there a gender-neutral way of referring to a nurse ?

  • 1
    I doubt that 看護師 is really sex-neutral, even if it is grammatically gender-neutral. (The latter is necessarily so since there isn't gender in Japanese.) You could probably devise a test that could be presented to samples of Japanese subjects which would reveal that the stereotype image that most of them form in their mind in response to the word 看護師 is female. – Kaz Apr 26 '12 at 20:17
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    I agree with @Kaz: 看護師 (kangoshi) just means something like "caretaker professional," which is what nurse has come to mean in the U.S., but when someone says nurse here they get an image of a woman. And if you Google images for 看護師, you mainly see female pictures. – Robusto Apr 26 '12 at 20:20
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    'kangoshi' is a newer and more gender-neutral alternative to the original 'kangofu' (看護婦). While Japanese doesn't have grammatical genders, the final kanji 婦 contains the sign for 'woman' (女) and is thus, to a Japanese reader, definitely female. Replacing 'fu' with 'shi' (師) thus makes the word less 'gendered'. – hallvors - restore Monica Apr 27 '12 at 6:47
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    @hallvors: The point is, many words for occupations get associated with a gender anyway, as the Google image search shows. There are probably female lumberjacks and there are plenty of female soldiers, but the archetypal first-thought image would be of a man for both of those. Compare that with receptionist — a gender-neutral noun with strong female associations. – Robusto Apr 27 '12 at 14:52
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    @Robusto: Good point, and secretary may have even stronger female undercurrents than receptionist, whereas administrative assistant would seem more gender-neutral. Rightly or wrongly, nurse may have trouble shedding its feminine association, and the fact that women nurse their babies probably won't help. (I might nurse a drink, but I could never nurse a baby.) – J.R. Apr 28 '12 at 0:40

The word nurse is gender-neutral in modern English.

  • 3
    Doesn't the word nurse have a female connotation ? – Pacerier Apr 26 '12 at 20:09
  • 4
    @Pacerier no. It used to, but that was about 50 years ago. – Matt E. Эллен Apr 26 '12 at 20:11
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    Yes, it definitely still has a female connotation and male nurse is sometimes required to overcome that. – Kaz Apr 26 '12 at 20:13
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    It can carry a female connotation, but it need not have it—nursing is the profession, and if you are in that profession, you are a nurse. The female connotation is baggage that, if not shed, is being shed. – zpletan Apr 26 '12 at 20:19
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    It's the nursing profession that has a "female connotation" based on traditional gender roles. The word itself has no such connotations. – Lèse majesté Apr 27 '12 at 7:15

Note that gender isn't sex. It's a linguistic/grammatical notion and there are languages with more than three genders:


English doesn't have a grammatical gender, outside of pronouns like he, she it. The Wikipedia article above gives a citation for this claim: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_gender#cite_note-enc-0

What's at issue here is that there is a lingering sex-role stereotype attached to nurse. This is not easy to expunge, and is still carried to some extent even by a politically-correct term such as health care professional. Some people will imagine a woman when they hear health care professional, without any further context, and there is nothing that can be done about that. Simply adding health care to professional brings in stereotypes related to the profession in which the supporting, caregiving roles are occupied largely by women.

Also, consider the word "stripper": paint stripper, stripper, male stripper. You can see there is no gender in the word word itself: a stripper is something or someone that strips, transitively or reflexively.

  • 1
    Wow gender isn't sex, that's really something to think about! – Pacerier Apr 26 '12 at 20:54
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    Gender is sometimes used as a euphimism for sex. For instance "Selecting the gender of a child is controversial." People are more comfortable saying gender rather than sex. But gender isn't sex. In some languages, inanimate (and therefore sexless) things have gender: they can be he, she, it, or other possibilities. French: la baguette. – Kaz Apr 26 '12 at 20:59
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    Isn't it true that the word gender has two meanings, so it can mean either 1) sex, or 2) the grammatical gender ? – Pacerier Apr 26 '12 at 21:01
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    Yes, but in this website we should know better. :) – Kaz Apr 26 '12 at 21:19
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    @Kaz Even leaving aside self-identification, biologically identifying the sex of a person can be tricky when aneuploidy (= unnormal chromosome count) comes into play. And let’s not even get started with transgender. Who said anyway that biological sex is defined by chromosomes? Sometimes this is helpful but far from always, even in a purely biological context. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 27 '12 at 8:41

I was wondering, Is there such an equivalent word in English?

i.e. What's a gender-neutral way of referring to a nurse ?

You don't really need an equivalent word. The word nurse means both men or women who do that job.

If certain people associate the word with women, that's their personal view. It does not mean that the word itself is particular to women, at least not in modern times within the UK.


If you believe that "nurse" is gender-neutral, use it. If you believe that "nurse" has a female connotation, say "nurse (male or female)". The solution doesn't have to be a single word.


The terms commonly used in journals and literature tend to be "practitioner", "clinician" and "healthcare professional" all of which the profession of nurse falls under, but certainly do not have a female connotation. (E.g. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners)

  • 1
    Yes, but none of those mean "nurse". – Mark Beadles Apr 27 '12 at 3:08
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    While these are all gender neutral terms these are too broad to refer specifically to a nurse. These are blanket terms that apply to a wide variety of healthcare workers. Nurse is and should be a gender neutral term. – Jed Oliver Apr 27 '12 at 3:09
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    To someone who instantly imagines a woman upon hearing the word "nurse", some of these words do have the conntation, in particular "health care practitioner". What is that? It is a nice way of saying "someone who didn't go all the way to become an M.D.". More often than not, a woman. – Kaz Nov 2 '12 at 23:07

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