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About registered nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) are self-regulated health care professionals who work autonomously and in collaboration with others to enable individuals, families, groups, communities and populations to achieve their optimal levels of health. At all stages of life, in situations of health, illness, injury and disability, RNs deliver direct health care services, coordinate care and support clients in managing their own health. RNs contribute to health care systems through their leadership across a wide range of settings in practice, education, administration, research and policy. i

Advanced nursing practice

Advanced nursing practice is an umbrella term describing an advanced level of clinical practice that maximizes the use of graduate educational preparation, an in-depth nursing knowledge and expertise in meeting the health needs of individuals, families, groups, communities and populations.ii

2 advanced nursing practice roles are recognized in Canada: the nurse practitioner (NP) and the clinical nurse specialist (CNS).iii

  • NPs are RNs working as autonomous health professionals with additional educational preparation and experience who possess and demonstrate the competencies to autonomously diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe pharmaceuticals and perform specific procedures within their legislated scope of practice.iv
  • CNSs v, vi are RNs with a graduate degree in nursing who provide expert nursing care for specialized client populations and play a leading role in developing clinical guidelines and protocols. They promote the use of evidence, provide expert support and consultation, and facilitate system change.

Data availability

CIHI's Health Workforce Database (HWDB) collects standardized, comparative data on the supply, demographics, geographic and distribution characteristics, and education and employment details of RNs/NPs in Canada.

  • Data on RNs is available from 1980 to 2017; data on NPs is available from 2003 to 2017.
  • Submit a request by completing the data inquiry form or emailing us at hhr@cihi.ca.
  • For more information on CIHI's RN/NP data, visit the HWDB metadata page.

Reports and analyses

Regulatory environment

In Canada, RNs and NPs are regulated in all 13 provinces and territories.

First year of regulation N.L. P.E.I. N.S. N.B. Que. Ont. Man. Sask. Alta. B.C. Y.T. N.W.T. Nun.
RN 1954 1949 1910 1916 1946 1922 1913 1967 1916 1918 1994 1973 1999*
NP 1997 2006 2002 2002 2003 1997 2005 2003 2002† 2005 2013 2004 2004

*   Nunavut was formed in 1999 and adopted the Northwest Territories' legislation regarding RNs.
†   From 1996 to 2002, NPs in Alberta were referred to as RNs providing extended services. In June 2002, regulations were changed to refer to these nurses as NPs.
CNSs are regulated as a separate profession in Quebec only. The advanced practice nursing role of CNS has been regulated in Quebec since 2011.

Entry-to-practice criteria/requirements

To practise as an RN in Canada

An individual must obtain registration/licensure from an RN regulatory body in Canada. The requirements or criteria to obtain initial registration/licensure are similar across the country but can vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another.

Examples of common RN entry-to-practice registration/licensure criteria

  • Hold a bachelor's degree in nursing, except in Quebec, where a diploma is accepted
  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN), except in Quebec; in Quebec, pass the entry-to-practice professional exam from the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec
  • Demonstrate language proficiency
    • Register with a provincial/territorial nursing regulatory body

To practise as an NP in Canada

The entry-to-practice criteria/requirements for NPs are similar across the country but vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another.

Examples of common NP entry-to-practice registration/licensure requirements

  • Be registered or eligible to register as an RN
  • Complete an approved NP education program
  • Pass the NP entry-to-practice registration examination approved by the nursing regulatory body

Scope of practice

RNs (including NPs and CNSs) are highly trained professionals who support people to attain, maintain and regain their optimal health across the lifespan.vii

The RN scope of practice is set out in provincial/territorial legislation and regulations and is complemented by standards, guidelines, policy positions and ethical standards from jurisdictional nursing regulatory bodies.i

RNs (including NPs and CNSs) practise in 5 domains of practice:

  • Clinical care
  • Education
  • Administration
  • Research
  • Policy

i. Canadian Nurses Association. Framework for the Practice of Registered Nurses in Canada. 2015.

ii. Canadian Nurses Association. Advanced Nursing Practice: Position Statement. 2007.

iii. Canadian Nurses Association. Nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists. Accessed February 5, 2015.

iv. Canadian Nurses Association. Advanced Nursing Practice — A National Framework. 2008.

v. Canadian Nurses Association. Pan-Canadian Core Competencies for the Clinical Nurse Specialist. 2014.

vi. Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec. Infirmière clinicienne spécialisée. Accessed February 18, 2016.

vii. Canadian Nurses Association. Becoming an RN. Accessed February 5, 2016.