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The Nursing Profession in Canada - Understanding the Role of the Regulatory Nursing Organizations

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The nursing profession in Canada is regulated in the public interest. Regulatory nursing organizations have been established in every province established specifically to regulate the nursing profession in the public interest.

A regulatory authority does not find you a job or even help you with establishing your nursing career. The regulatory nursing organizations in Canada work in the public interest to ensure that Canadians who require nursing services will have a knowledgeable, competent, and ethical practitioner to provide it.

What is the concept of public protection?

Regulation of the nursing profession means that certain standards and rules are in place under specific legislation that governs the profession. Regulation exists to protect the public who are especially vulnerable when they are sick and unable to independently meet their own needs. Laws are passed to protect the public if they happen to be in this state of vulnerability.

In order to start a nursing career and continue to practice as a nurse you must meet the requirements set by the government and enforced by the regulatory nursing body. Regulating the nursing profession improves the probability that the public will receive competent, knowledgeable, and ethical care from all the nurses.

You cannot start your nursing career in Canada unless you are registered with a regulatory authority so you must understand what they do and how and why they exist.

The regulatory nursing organizations act in the public interest and depending on the legislation this regulatory body may be a called a college (for example the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia ) or an association.

The mandate of public protection is fulfilled by the nursing regulatory body when they:

  • set professional standards
  • regulate entrance to the nursing profession
  • regulate nursing programs
  • provide professional practice support for members
  • discipline practicing members

Setting Professional Standards

Nursing practice standards are in place in all provinces in Canada. They are established by the regulatory nursing organization as the minimum standard of practice and nurses must practice accordingly. Professional nursing standards form the basis for disciplinary investigations.

Regulating Entrance Into the Nursing Profession

You must pass the nursing entrance test for Canada in order to become a member of the nursing profession. Eligibility for the test is determined by the provincial nursing regulatory body and depends on:

  • graduation from an approved school of nursing in Canada
  • clear criminal records check
  • successful completion of the Canadian nursing entrance test

If you completed your nursing education outside of Canada your nursing degree will be reviewed to determine equivalency to Canadian education programs and you must meet requirements for English competency if your native language is not English.

Success on the nursing entrance exam opens the door to your nursing career in Canada as it is usually the last step to obtaining a nursing license. Once licensing is achieved, you can start your nursing career. You can renew your registration annually if you pay the fee and prove that you have met the requirements for continuing competency.

Regulating Nursing Education Programs

The delivery of post secondary education in Canada is also regulated in the public interest. Nursing schools must meet all these criteria plus the standards put in place by the regulatory nursing organizations. All nursing programs in Canada prepare candidates to write the same nursing entrance test as it is a national nursing exam. This reduces the amount of variation in nursing education programs between provinces.

Providing Professional Practice Support for Members

One of the best ways to ensure public protection is to provide support to the members of the nursing profession. Providing support to practicing members prevents poor practice and promotes good practice. All regulatory nursing organizations will have a professional practice division that is responsible for helping members with their current practice. Consultants work on issues that are in the news and affect nursing practice. They advise members who call in with specific questions and they write policy and professional practice statements.

In addition most regulatory nursing organizations have a library available for members that includes electronic databases and perhaps even a monthly publication on issues affecting the nursing profession in that province and across the country.

Disciplining Practicing Members

Anybody can make a complaint about a nurse simply by contacting the regulatory authority. All complaints are investigated and disciplinary action by the regulatory body must be undertaken if it is determined that the member failed to practice according to the professional standards.

When you enter the nursing profession and begin your nursing career in Canada you practice as a regulated professional. You cannot practice nursing or even use the title nurse if you do not have a nursing license. Safe, ethical, and autonomous practice as a nurse means that you must understand the concept of public protection and how the nursing regulatory bodies fulfill their legislated mandate.

Beverly Hansen OMalley is a nurse educator who is passionate about the nursing profession in Canada. She loves to work with internationally educated nurses to help them become a registered nurse in Canada.

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