There are some 460,000 nurses in Canada regulated in four categories — registered nurses, licensed or registered practical nurses, nurse practitioners, and registered psychiatric nurses. Each of those nurses has a relationship with a provincial or territorial regulatory body. They may also be affiliated with a nursing union, a professional nursing association, or a specialty nursing association; they’ll also have relationships with employers, Indigenous communities, and many more.
The governance of health care at the federal level and across the 13 provinces and territories makes things more complex, and it can be easy to get lost when trying to understand the purposes of the large number of nursing organizations in a federation like Canada.
The matrix of regulated categories and types of nursing organizations, all layered within Canada’s federated structure, makes for a complicated nursing landscape. While there is some blurring of functions among them, it is important to understand the roles of these diverse organizations.
- Nursing regulatory bodies exist to protect the public. These organizations help to set, monitor and enforce the standards by which every regulated nurse in Canada is expected to practise.
- Nursing unions focus on nurses as individuals and workers. They work with employers and governments to develop and negotiate collective agreements and legislation to ensure safe working conditions, safe staffing, respectful rights and pay.
- Nursing specialty practice organizations provide a focal point for affiliation, professional development, and advancement of specialty nursing practice (e.g., hospice nursing, long-term care, critical care) to improve the quality and effectiveness of care. There are more than 40 national nursing specialty and interest groups across Canada.
- Professional nursing associations connect with all other nursing organizations to lead a discourse on broader societal issues related to health systems, health care, and health outcomes from the lens of nurses and nursing. They are leaders in advocacy and policy development, providing direction that advances the nursing profession to improve health outcomes and maintain the trust of the public.
Professional nursing associations differ from the other organizations in being the only groups that form allies among nurses, nursing students and retirees. Associations connect these groups to evolving, profession-wide and societal issues that may have broad impacts on health and health care.