Nursing in Canada

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Two nurses with baby in nursery at Toronto East General and Orthopaedic Hospital, 1955

Nurses in Canada practice nursing in a wide variety of specialties.


Most provinces in Canada prefer that the Registered Nurse hold a Baccalaureate degree typically a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or similar (degree names vary slightly depending on the granting institution). Currently, many RNs have been "grandfathered in" and are practicing with a previously obtained 3 year diploma achieved at the college level. This cohort of RNs are encouraged by the Canadian Nurses Association and their respective provincial colleges to return and upgrade their education to that of the Baccalaureate prepared RN due to research suggesting that the degree-prepared RN have improved outcomes for patients and families. RN education now is mandated to 4 years in length through a degree granting institution (a university). However, some institutions have "accelerated" programs at 3 years in length, where students study full time through the summer. Additionally, there are 2 year programs, but entrants into these programs typically have been granted previous non-nursing degrees. RNs and RPNs throughout Canada study a diverse range of mandated subjects including, but not limited to: physiology, anatomy, pathophysiology, epidemiology, microbiology, nutrition and dietetics, pharmacology, organic chemistry, nursing theory and nursing skill. Extensive hands on practical training, coloquially referred to as "clinical" by students, starts early as year one and extends to graduation.

RNs can pursue further education at the Masters or Doctoral level, receiving a Masters of Science in Nursing or PhD, respectively. Additionally, there are several different types of Master's degree. Depending upon field of study, the RN can choose to study to become a Nurse Practitioner, an Advanced Practice Nurse, a Registered Nurse First Assist (Surgeon's assistant); in addition to many other fields of study. Currently in Canada, there does not exist the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist role, unlike the United States.

Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) or Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) in Canada are educated at the College level after two years of study and are granted a diploma upon successful completion. Training is quite similar to RN educations with much of the same subjects, however given the reduced period of study, students receive a more focused foundational body of knowledge; this results in the inability of RPNs to provide care to acutely unstable patients. Students are exposed to hands on practical training as early as first semester of year one, continuing to graduation.

Types of nurses[edit]

Legal regulation[edit]

The profession of nursing is regulated at the provincial and territorial level in keeping with the principles of professional regulation endorsed by the International Council of Nurses. The College of Nurses of Ontario regulates both RNs and RPNs in contrast to the other provinces and territories where RNs and LPNs are regulated by separate bodies. In the western provinces, psychiatric nurses are governed by distinct legislation.

All registered nurses and nurse practitioners in the province of Alberta are expected to maintain their clinical competence in order receive an annual practice permit from the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta which also sets standards for scope of practice and provides practice support.


A circa 1910 postcard of the Anne Baillie Building in Kingston, Ontario

The role that nurses have played in the development of Canada has been recognized through the designation of seven National Historic Sites of Canada related to nursing. Five nurses' residences (the Ann Baillie Building,[1] Begbie Hall,[2] the Hersey Pavilion,[3] the Pavillon Mailloux[4] and the St. Boniface Hospital Nurses' Residence[5]) were designated in commemoration of the growing professionalism of nursing and of the expanded role of nurses in health care over the course of the 20th century. The La Corne Nursing Station[6] and the Wilberforce Red Cross Outpost[7] were designated, in part, in honour of the role played by nurses in delivering health care to isolated areas.


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