Updated September 7, 2022
In Canada and many other countries, there are three levels of nursing. When nurses reach the highest level in the profession - most times through additional education and experience - they are known as Nurse Practitioners or NPs, and this group of nursing professionals is the focus of the present article. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about nurse practitioners in Canada.
According to the Canadian Nursing Association (CNA), nurse practitioners are "registered nurses who have additional education and nursing experience, which enables them to treat the whole person." This means that NPs can diagnose and treat illnesses without the supervision of a physician, order and interpret medical tests, write prescriptions for medications, and even perform specific medical procedures.
Nurse practitioners are highly skilled and experienced, but that's not enough to succeed in this field. They must have excellent social skills and an aptitude for caregiving. They must also be empathetic to be able to put themselves into their patient’s shoes and connect with their feelings. Furthermore, NPs should develop strong time management skills in order to manage their patient needs and overall workload efficiency, and should have both physical and mental endurance to help prevent burnout, which is a common issue in this profession.
Read More: Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor
Read More: RPN vs. RN - What are the differences?
Nurse practitioners were designated in Canada in the 1960s as a strategy to bring more advanced care to rural and remote areas across the country, as stated by the CNA. During the following decade, the role had become increasingly popular, which resulted in the creation of new education programs exclusively dedicated to the role.
In recent years, and thanks to the advocacy work done by the same organization, nurse practitioners are now recognized as care providers in three key pieces of federal legislation and regulation, which means they have fewer barriers in terms of their practice and can provide a wider range of services.
There are several types of nurse practitioners, depending on the specialty of care they choose. The specialties that are currently available for nurse practitioners in Ontario and most provinces in Canada are:
Some of the most common duties and responsibilities of nurse practitioners include conducting complete physical evaluations on patients, monitoring the effectiveness of prescribed medication and treatments, recording patients’ medical history and updating their records, as well as managing the work of other nurses such as RPNs, and RNs.
Furthermore, NPs work often focuses on the overall wellness of their patients, which is why they are known by patients for suggesting diet changes, increased exercise, and the interruption of bad habits such as smoking or frequent consumption of alcohol.
As experienced healthcare professionals, nurse practitioners can also act as educators and researchers who can be consulted by other healthcare workers about the treatment and management of chronic illnesses, the medical history of patients under their care, and other aspects related to patients' physical and mental health.
Just like any other nurse, in Canada nurse practitioners work in diverse healthcare settings such as:
Additionally, nurse practitioners can be in front of their own clinics, called Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinics (NPLCs), where they usually lead a group of nurses and healthcare professionals to offer healthcare services to patients, similar to what family doctors do.
The Registered Nurse Association of Ontario (RNAO) published a report in 2021 titled "Nurse Practitioner Task Force, Vision for Tomorrow" in which the organization recommends that nurse practitioners should increase their presence across all sectors and settings, expand their scope of practice, and get better compensation.
The report also suggests that looking to the future, Ontario's health-care system should optimize the utilization of nurse practitioners, invest in more research to support their practice, and showcase their impact through public education campaigns.
To become a nurse practitioner in Ontario, nursing students must first complete the educational requirements to practice as registered nurses and then move on to post-graduate work, which usually includes intensive medical training and can also involve an internship or residency.
Another requirement is registration. All nurses that want to work in the province have to get registered at the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) to be able to practice. The process involves writing the nurse practitioner exam approved by the college’s council for the NP specialty that each nurse is applying to practice.
Nurse practitioners in Ontario have three chances to successfully complete the NP exam of their choosing. If they are not successful, then their application to the CNO will be reviewed by the college's registration committee to determine if there were any extenuating circumstances to consider annulling the results of one or more of the candidate's unsuccessful attempts and to allow them to try again.
Regarding their income, the average nurse practitioner's salary in Canada is $50 per hour or close to $100,000 per year, according to several sources.
As it happens in other areas, NPs with more experience and in higher positions often make more. Their salaries also vary depending on location. For instance, in Ontario, NPs who practise in Toronto and Ottawa make more than those who practise in London or Oshawa.
For nurse practitioners who have extensive experience in their careers, want to find new opportunities to share their knowledge with other nurses, and continue to do what they love, which is providing care to patients; there are numerous opportunities out there.
A great option to find some of these opportunities and get in touch with top employers in the field is to join our Caring Support platform. Doing so is as easy as signing up, creating a free healthcare worker profile, filling it out, and then searching for nurse practitioner jobs. Our platform offers multiple features and tools that facilitate and accelerate the job hunting process while giving access to dozens of career-revolutionizing job postings for NPs and many other healthcare workers, so we encourage anyone in the field to give it a try.
Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about nurse practitioners in Canada:
The best nurse practitioner programs in Canada, and specifically in Ontario, are the ones that have been reviewed and approved by the Council of the College of Nurses of Ontario, as this organization reviews each new program's curriculum on an annual basis, prior to admitting students.
Yes, nurse practitioners can prescribe certain medications in Canada, including controlled substances, but only if they have completed approved controlled substances training.
Yes, as previously stated, nurse practitioners can be in front of their own Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinics (NPLCs), where they offer healthcare services to patients, along with a team of supporting healthcare workers.
Yes, they can. However, to be able to, they must get registered by the regulatory body of the province where they intend to offer their services, such as the College of Nurses of Ontario.
Yes. International students can enroll in any of the approved nurse practitioner programs offered across the country. Once they graduate, they must follow the same process as local students to obtain their registration and be able to practice in the country. How to Apply to a Nursing Program in Ontario?
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