Changes in nursing practice are happening

June 2017

Health care professionals are the foundation of a health care system, and regulated nurses account for almost half of the health workforce in Canada.

Every year, we release our Regulated Nurses report. It provides a view of current trends in the nursing practice in Canada across a variety of supply, employment and demographic characteristics for the 3 groups of regulated nursing professionals:

  • Registered nurses (RNs, including nurse practitioners, or NPs)
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) — called registered practical nurses in Ontario
  • Registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs)

Regulated Nurses, 2016 shows how the nursing workforce is evolving in Canada.

Behind the numbers

In the past year, the number of regulated nurses continued to grow, albeit more slowly than what we’ve seen in recent years. In fact, the growth rate was the lowest since we began collecting data on regulated nursing professionals, except for 2014, when we saw a decline in the supply of nurses resulting from regulatory changes. In 2016, Canada experienced a net gain of 6,092 regulated nurses — 2,271 fewer than the net gain of 2015.

“What we’re seeing is a shift in the proportions of nurses within a health care team,” said Andrea Porter, manager of CIHI’s Health Workforce Information department. “Across all settings, we see a decline among registered nurses and nurse practitioners, alongside an increase in practical nurses.” 

Full-time employment rates of regulated nurses, by place of work, Canada, 2007 and 2016

Evolving roles and models

Recent census results show that for the first time, seniors are now accounting for a larger proportion of the Canadian population than children. This, along with changes in the health care needs of the population, has a strong influence on how care is delivered.

“When we look at the delivery of care, we’re seeing an increasing role for interprofessional collaboration as a foundation for models of care going forward, and that’s across all settings in all provinces and territories,” said Porter.

Regulated nurses play an important role in health care delivery across Canada. They work independently or in collaboration with other members of a health care team, providing services to individuals of all ages, their families and their communities. 

Figure 11: Areas of responsibility for regulated nurses, by place of work, Canada, 2016

“We’re seeing changes in the health care needs of the population and in how these needs are influencing the way health care is being delivered,” Porter said. “In addition to the aging population, we have our health system planners who are looking at ways to change service delivery and to find efficiencies, while providing care that considers access, quality, the appropriateness of care and also the cost to deliver care.”

Looking forward

Changes in nursing practice are happening right before our eyes. These shifts, with changes in both the delivery of care and population needs, will be important to monitor to understand the emerging roles of regulated nurses as our health care systems evolve.