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CIHI report reveals optimistic signposts for future of the nursing profession

Ottawa, June 27, 2019 – As Canada’s proportion of the population over the age of 65 is growing, the nursing workforce may be evolving to reflect the country’s changing care needs, according to the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). The nursing advocacy group was reacting to data released today in a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), Nursing in Canada, 2018 A Lens on Supply and Workforce.

The CIHI report is released every year. It paints a picture of Canada’s regulated nursing workforce, which is made up of more than 431,000 registered nurses (including nearly 5,700 nurse practitioners), licensed and registered practical nurses, and registered psychiatric nurses.

“The overall growth rate of the regulated nursing workforce in 2018 was 1%, which is in line with Canada’s population growth,” said Claire Betker, president of CNA. The greatest increase was among licensed practical nurses, who accounted for more than 60% of the net gain in the overall number of nurses.

“This is not a surprise considering Canada`s shifting demographic, and given that so much of the care needed by older adults with functional decline and multiple chronic conditions in Canada aligns so well with the scope of practice of practical nurses,” Betker added. “More than three quarters of the regulated nurses in hospitals, our most acute, unpredictable and urgent care settings, are registered nurses, as we would expect. Moving to home care, where things generally are more stable and predictable, we see fewer registered nurses, and in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes, more than half of the regulated nurses are practical nurses.”

One problematic finding is that there was a significant flow of nurses out of rural and remote areas. This is particularly a worry given that the overall proportion of nurses working in these parts of Canada already falls well below the numbers of Canadians living in these areas. And in many parts of rural Canada, the population is older than in urban areas, placing greater demands on nursing care services.

Another area of concern is that the current growth of the regulated nursing workforce in home and long-term care settings is not on track to meet demands. Overall demand for nurses in continuing care is expected to grow by 3.4 per cent each year. CNA believes that to meet this demand, health-care system transformation is needed with new models that integrate innovative nursing practices.

Despite these challenges, after 20 years of concern about the aging of the nursing workforce, the report also reveals that the aging trend of nursing may be easing off: average ages among each regulated nursing category remained the same or decreased slightly over the past year.

The increase in the proportion of males and practical nurses, and the younger overall age, are optimistic signposts for a more diverse and representative future for the nursing profession, according to Mike Villeneuve, CEO of CNA. “While the number of men in the profession is still comparatively low, we are intrigued to see that the growth in male nurses outpaced that of females by a factor of 3 to 1. They accounted for 32% of the increase in regulated nurses between 2017 and 2018,” Villeneuve said, noting the importance of building an equitable nursing profession that is reflective of the population it serves.

Betker further observed that the CIHI report does highlight an area that requires better data collection. “It is currently impossible to track the movement of nurses between provinces and territories using the jurisdictional inflow/outflow data because it is simply based on the number of new and expired licences.” This barrier highlights the need for a unique nurse identifier for which CNA has long advocated — one that applies to all nurses across Canada that would allow for more efficient data tracking and collection. “Tracking the movement of nurses helps decision-makers to understand our workforce and plan for changes in the nursing landscape,” Betker said.


The Canadian Nurses Association is the national and global professional voice of Canadian nursing, representing 135,000 nurses in all 13 jurisdictions across Canada. CNA advances the practice and profession of nursing to improve health outcomes and strengthen Canada’s publicly funded, not-for-profit health system.

For more information, please contact:

Eve Johnston
Media and Communications Coordinator
Canadian Nurses Association
Tel: 613-237-2159, ext. 114
Cell: 613-282-7859
Email: ejohnston@cna-aiic.ca