It seems odd to me that a male (medical) nurse is called Krankenpfleger, but a female nurse is still called Krankenschwester and not Krankenpflegerin. Is there any movement toward phasing out Krankenschwester in favor of the other term? I gather that Pflegerin on its own has the other meaning of "nurse", what I would call a "nanny".

There is a related question: What is the neutral and the male word for 'Hausfrau'?

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    Calling a "Pflegerin" a "nanny" would be completely wrong, a nanny cares for children, "Pflegerin" takes care of People in general but mostly elderly, people in homes or people with a disability.
    – user49310
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 6:14
  • Slightly related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/5946/… Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 11:52
  • @Trae: Thanks for the clarification.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 19:17
  • This is essentially a form of semantic blocking. Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


My sister is a nurse. She got her diploma in the middle of the 1980ies (somewhen between 1983 and 1985), and I always found it odd that she is the Schwester for only me, but Krankenschwester for everybody, and I always found it odd, that her male colleagues are not called Krankenbruder.

The official term for her profession is »Diplompfleger« or »Diplompflegerin« and this term already existed when she made her diploma in the middle of the 1980ies. But this term exists only in Austria.

In Germany nurses are officially called »Gesundheits- und Krankenpfleger« since 2004, but the term »Krankenschwester« still exists as an official term in Germany. It is a »geschützte Berufsbezeichnung« = protected job title, which means that nobody is allowed to call herself a »Krankenschwester« when she doesn't have the right professional training.

In Switzerland nurses are officially called »Pflegefachmann« and »Pflegefachfrau«, also since 2004.

These are official terms, printed in the diplomas of the people who finish the relevant professional training. But how they are called by "normal" people changes very slowly.

When my sister talks about her job she still calls herself and her female colleagues Schwestern, and a few years ago she became Stationsschwester (charge nurse, i.e. the nurse who is the boss of all other nurses in a section of a hospital), and I never ever have heard anybody use the term Stationspfleger.

So, officially there still exists the term Schwester at least in Germany, but no longer in Austria. (I have no knowledge about the official usage of Schwester in Switzerland and Liechtenstein) and in all German speaking countries there is the official term Pfleger, but it still will take a while until the term Pfleger will also be used for female nurses in everyday language.

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    As an anecdote: I've heard male "Krankenpfleger" calling themselves "Krankenschwester"
    – Lykanion
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 7:37
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    You already alluded to it, but to spell it out a bit more: Since 2004, new people in the field get degrees as "Gesundheits- und Krankenpflegerin" or "Gesundheits- und Krankenpfleger". People who got their degrees before then can choose whether they want to keep their old titles - "Krankenschwester" or "Krankenpfleger", or whether they want to officially switch to the new titles. So both versions are still in use parallel. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 9:53
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    In general, job titles in the medical field are regulated quite strongly, because they reflect the extend of somebody's training and what they're authorized to do. For example, a member of my family was involved with the examination of "Rettungssanitäter" and "Rettungsassistenten" before retirement. It was quite a difference if somebody was one or the other, and the "Rettungsassistent" was the one with more training and authority. Those titles (and "Berufsbilder") have been changed since, too. So, the community of speakers isn't the only one deciding about what to call people here. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 9:59
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    Actually for people who started their training in 2020 or later it is "Pflegefachmann" or "Pflegefachfrau" respectively (replaces all the former "Krankenpfleger/in", "Kinderkrankenpfleger/in" and "Altenpfleger/in" which now receive all the same basic training ).
    – user2508
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 15:06
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    @Eike Pierstorff: My intuition says Pflegefachmann/frau will be slow to catch on. It seems technical sounding, something like "care specialist", but is only slightly more gender neutral than Krankenschwester. Pflegefachperson perhaps?
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 19:20

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