Doctors and nurses

The words doctor and nurse in English aren’t gender-specific, however many people expect doctors to be male and nurses female. As a result, the terms female doctor or lady doctor and male nurse are used to specify the gender of those who don’t fit such stereotypes.

In Welsh a doctor is meddyg and a female doctor is meddyges, while a nurse is nyrs and a male nurse is nyrs gwrywaidd. An older word for nurse is gweinyddes, which means “female attendant” and is a feminine version of gweinydd (attendant).

In Irish a doctor is dochtúir and nurse is usually banaltra (female), while banaltra fir is sometimes used for male nurses. There is also altra, which is a non-gender-specific version of nurse. The ban in banaltra comes from bean, woman / female.

How do other languages handle these words?

This entry was posted in English, Irish, Language, Welsh.

0 Responses to Doctors and nurses

  1. garance says:

    In French

    nurse: infirmier (male) infirmiere (female)
    doctor: docteur (male) doctoresse (female) but many people would call a female doctor “docteur” anyway. Collins dictionary considers “doctoresse” old-fashioned. The well known Dr Quinn series is translated in French Dr Quinn femme medecin (woman doctor).
    In France, if you get a Ph D, you will be a ‘docteur” in your field of research (for males and females)

  2. Petruza says:

    Well in spanish that’s easy because every noun has a gender, so it’s:
    male nurse: Enfermero
    female nurse: Enfermera
    male doctor: Doctor
    female doctor: Doctora

    A funny thing about “Enfermero” is that it derives from “enfermo” which means Sick, and adding the suffix -“ero” would mean something like “The one who handles sick (people)”

  3. Strika says:

    Yeah, but in Spanish we have also the word “médico”, and it’s not very common to hear “médica” for a woman. Usually we say “la médico”.

    Other languages I know:

    In German:

    Doctor: Arzt (male), Ärtztin (female)
    Nurse: Krankenpfleger (male), Krankenpflegerin, Krankenschwester (female).

    “Krank” means ill or sick and “pfleger” means caretaker. Schwester means sister.

    In Hebrew:

    Doctor: רופא (rophe) for both male and female
    Nurse: אח (ach) for male, and אחות (achot) for female

    Ach and achot mean brother and sister.

  4. Jason Fisher says:

    To mention another of the Romance languages, in Italian one usually feminizes professions by the addition of –essa, e.g., dottore “doctor”, dottoressa “female doctor”, professore “professor”, professoressa “female professor”, and so on.

  5. jhr says:

    With Japanese it’s a bit interesting: there was 看護婦 (kangofu) meaning “female nurse” and 看護士 (kangoshi) meaning “male nurse”, but now there is 看護師 (kangoshi) which has the same pronunciation as the word for “male nurse” but is gender-neutral.

  6. In Irish, it is possible in principle to prefix ‘ban-‘ to any masculine noun to create a female version, but this has taken on something of an un-PC feel recently and tends to be frowned upon.

    For ‘nurse’, the gender-neutral ‘altra’ is strongly preferred these days.

    An extreme example is ‘bangharda’, literally ‘policewoman’. This terms is almost a taboo now. (From ‘garda’, policeman

  7. Kel says:

    In Russian, doctor is врач (vrach) or доктор (doktor), and both are masculine gendered nouns that can be applied to both men and women.

    Nurse, however, is медицинская сестра (myeditsinskaya syestra, myed syestra for short), which literally means “medicinal sister.” So it’s really hard for people to imagine a male nurse. I never came across one in Russia, and when I asked people about it they jokingly suggested calling a male nurse мед брат, substituting the word “brother” for “sister.”
    My dictionary gives санитар (sanitar) and брат милосердия (brat miloserdiya, literally “mercy brother”), but I’ve never heard either.

  8. Provi says:

    Hm, as far as I know, Isha means doctor in Japanese I believe, but it’s not gender specific from what I know.

  9. Dreaminjosh says:

    As previously mentioned, French has “l’infermiere” and “l’infermier” which both mean “nurse” (feminine and masculine, respectively)- but you can make most nouns in french masculine or feminine if you add or subtract the right suffixes.

    In general speaking or writing, you’ll always come across the feminine form of the word nurse first. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen the masculine form.

    Kinda like the word for “pregnant”. “Enceinte” is invariably in the feminine, but you can make it masculine by chopping off the last “e”. I can’t think of a time when you’d do this though… maybe when saying something really general like “le poisson est enceint”.

    Looks funny, though.

  10. Seumas says:

    I was actually speaking to my wife (a doctor) about this subject the other day. I asked what does one call a male midwife? And what about a ward sister? Apparently these terms aren’t used in British medicine anymore. They have non-gendered terms for all of these things.

    In Scottish Gaelic/Gaidhlig Albanach…

    Doctor – Dotair.

    I think ‘dotair’ only exists in the masculine form. My wife is a Gaelic speaking doctor, she would use ‘dotair’ to describe herself (‘S e dotair a th’annam’, ‘I am a doctor’).

    Nurse – banaltram (feminine), nurs (masculine).

    I suspect that ‘nurs’ is a modern invention to accomodate changing gender roles in medicine! To a Scottish Gaelic ear, the Irish ‘banaltra-fir’ is weird. It sounds like the nurse is both male AND female! Our word ‘nurs’ is so much less complicated.

    Tioraidh matha,


  11. pittmirg says:


    lekarz – doctor (male, but also the general term)
    lekarka – doctor (female)
    pielęgniarka – nurse (female)
    pielęgniarz – nurse (male) – indeed, this one could be considered a bit unusual

  12. @Dreaminjosh: here is your homme enceint 🙂,,3808775,00-homme-enceint-reclame-droit-procreer-.html

    In Dutch the standard terms are “dokter” (doctor) and “verpleegster” (nurse), there is a perfectly normal term for a male nurse (“verpleger”) but, as in French there is this word “dokteres” but it sounds really weird. Usually one says “dokter” for a woman too. Oh and there is the word “arts” which seems gender-neutral (you’d first think of a man, but there is no female form and it is used for both)

    The forms “(zieken)zuster” and “(zieken)broeder” (= sister and brother for ill people or something like that) are getting out of use, since they refer to nuns and monks running hospitals, which used to be quite common, but it is fading away with the number of nuns and monks going down.

    It is also quite silly when you have to use other words specifying job that include the term “man” or “woman” for someone of the other sex, like “timmerman” (carpenter) or “vroedvrouw” (midwife). But I haven’t come across a lot of female carpenters and male midwifes (well there was one in the newspaper a few months ago) yet.

  13. Leitbulb says:

    this definitely is not a real word but i call male nurses murses (also for man-pocketbooks) and female doctors lady doctors. i think the specification is really only needed for “murses” because women doctors are so widely accepted.

  14. Elric says:

    Interestingly, Finnish has ZERO grammatical gender, so regardless of the gender of the professional you meet, Doctor is always ‘tohtori’ and Nurse is always ‘hoitaja’, etc. What will change the term is how you use it (‘to the doctor’s, etc) and you can have up to 4 suffixes on a word (nouns AND verbs)

    Not an expert. I have a couple grammars and a dictionary floating around. So I looked it up and then asked my friend in Tampere. 😀

  15. Ulashima says:

    Turkish does not have grammatical gender, so the words “Doktor”, “Hekim” or “Tabip” are gender-neutral. If somebody is to adress a doctor with his/her gender they call them as “Doktor bey” (Mr. Doctor) or “Doktor hanım” (Ms. Doctor)

    However the word “Hemşire”, meaning “nurse”, itself is an old word for sister, not used anymore as its original meaning, it’s only used for nurses only. There are some hospital employees without higher training named “Hastabakıcı” (Caretaker for the sick) similar to Nurses’ aides or hospital attendants, who do small work at hospitals such as stretch bearing, meal distbution, room cleaning-tidying and light treatment on emergency situations. They can be male or female, but they are not necessarily nurses. Male nurses are still novelties, they can be called “Erkek hemşire” (male nurse), while “hemşire” means “sister”, now that it’s away from its original meaning I think it can be used. When male nurses were first introduced in Turkey, a comedian had once a joke that they can be called “Hemşir”, which is based on the usage of the “-e” suffix for a female pratictioner to a profession (e.g. Müdür ‘Manager/headmaster’ and Müdire ‘Female manager / headmistress’)

  16. elsatiph says:

    In Portuguese we have a very obvious gender distinction between male and female (in almost every grammatical class with /-o/ for male gender and /-a/ for female gender).

    We have:
    Médico, médica or doutor, doutora (with the abbreviations, Dr. and Dra.)

    enfermeiro, enfermeira (with the abbreviations sometimes like enfº and enfª).

    [birth assistant]
    parteiro, parteira

    This diversity in gender acknowledgement really makes languages so wonderfully different.

  17. iwsfutcmd says:

    In Arabic, “Doctor” (as in medical doctor) is:
    طبيب (m)
    طبيبة (f)
    ṭabíb (m)
    ṭabíbah (f)

    This comes from the root طب (ṭb), which relates to medical care.

    “Nurse” is:
    ممرّض (m)
    ممرّضة (f)

    This comes from the root مرض (mrḍ), which relates to illness.

    So the two words default at masculine and add a feminine ending to make the female form, without distinction between doctors and nurses. However, in my dictionary, all of the examples of use (outside of ‘male nurse’) use the feminine form for “nurse” and the masculine form for “doctor.”


  18. iwsfutcmd says:

    And on another note, when I was in India, I was talking to a guy and I asked him what his occupation was. He said he was “a male nurse.” That struck me as odd – most of the nurses (male or female) I know in the US would just say they were a nurse.


    PS. I wonder if the female doctors would refer to their occupation as “lady doctor.” 😛

  19. Dima says:

    In Russian only the word ‘nurse’ has gender distinction. Male nurse is called “медбрат” ( where “med” is abbreviated from “medical”) that literally translates as “medical brother” and female nurse “медсестра” – “medical sister” 🙂

  20. Jun says:

    In Korean, 간호사(看護師) is general expression for nurse, but
    usually meaning the female case. For male nurse, 남자 간호사(男子看護師) is used. In North Korea, 간호원(看護員) is used for nurse instead of 간호사.

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