What types of nurses are there? From RNs to RPNs, and other options for a future in nursing

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Last updated March 2, 2021

With an aging population, there has been strong demand for nurses in Canada for decades now. But in these pandemic times, the need for nurses to care for patients of all ages has never been greater. The Canadian Nurses Association predicts there will be a shortage of 60,000 nurses by 2022. According to Government of Canada data, new job openings for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses are expected to reach 191,000 between now and 2028, while just 154,600 new job seekers will be available to fill those positions. Along with important, front-line patient care roles in hospitals and medical clinics, nurses are needed in out-patient care, long-term care homes and rehabilitation centres.

If you’re considering a career in nursing, you have many potential career paths — and credentials from top nursing schools — to choose from. Here’s a guide to the different types of nurses in Canada, and what to consider if you want to pursue a nursing career.

What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

As an RN, you are trained as a health care generalist who can help patients with all kinds of ailments in various settings. An RN will typically be responsible for recording patients’ medical history, monitoring symptoms, administering medication and assisting the health care team as needed.

To become an RN, you require a four-year degree in nursing from a Canadian university or the equivalent from a collaborative college-university nursing program. You must also pass the Canadian Registered Nurse Examination, which is set and administered by the Canadian Nurses Association three times a year (except in Quebec, which has its own examination administered by the Ordre des infirmieres et infirmiers du Québec or OIIQ).

Type of NurseEducation Salary
Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) RPNs typically earn a two-year practical nursing diploma that prepares graduates to complete the Canadian Practical Nurse Registration Exam.$41,000 - $61,000
Registered Nurse (RN) / Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)Registered nurses often complete four-year degree programs, most commonly the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN). $53,000 - $94,000
Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN) RPNs must have a degree or diploma from a psychiatric nursing program (2-4 years) and pass the RPN Canada examination. Only British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon regulate and educate psychiatric nurses as a separate profession from RNs, LPNs and NPs.$59,059 - $102,742
Nurse Practitioner (NP)NPs must have a minimum BScN degree and have worked a designated number of hours (3640) before being admitted to a nurse practitioner program, usually two years in length. NP programs also exist for nurses with master’s degrees.$62,000 - $117,000

To practise nursing, RNs (and other types of nurses) must be registered in the province or territory where they intend to work. This entails meeting the nursing competencies outlined through your nursing regulatory body. For example, in Ontario, there are 101 nursing competencies outlined by the College of Nurses of Ontario.

A variety of internationally recognized nursing programs are available across Canada, including college diplomas, bachelor degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral programs.

The average annual salary for an RN (including bonuses) depends on experience. Geography is a key factor as well. The average hourly rate for an RN in Ontario is $33/hour compared to $38.50/hour in Alberta.

What is a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN)?

An RPN, outside of Ontario, is referred to as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), but their roles are one and the same. RPNs and LPNs provide health education and typically care for patients with less complex health needs. They work in teams with other health care providers (e.g., RNs and physicians).

As an RPN or LPN, your tasks could include taking blood pressure readings, administering medications, changing bandages and documenting patients’ symptoms/progress. You would also go over health care plans with patients and their families.

To become an RPN or LNP, you must successfully complete a two-year practical nursing diploma from an accredited college and pass Canada’s national licensing exam, except in Quebec, which has its own examination.

Programs in practical nursing exist to help train and place graduates in a variety of settings across Canada, with many collaborations in place between colleges and universities to help interested students gain direct acceptance into Registered Nursing programs.

The average annual salary for an RPN and LPN is $41,000 to $63,000, depending on experience and geographic area.

What is a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?

An NP is an RN with advanced education. As a NP, you can comprehensively assess patients (which includes diagnosing disease), and initiate treatment accordingly. You have the authority to prescribe medications and therapeutic interventions. You can also order and interpret diagnostic tests.

NPs also focus heavily on disease management and health promotion by teaching patients and their families about healthy living and preventing disease. They often work in collaboration with RNs and LPNs.

To become an NP, you need to be a practising RN and complete a two-year Master’s degree or advanced diploma in nursing. Typically, RNs spend two years in the field before pursuing a NP role, although that is not a requirement in every province or territory.

Once they have completed their education, graduates are eligible to write the NP exam in one of several specialty areas: primary care, adult, pediatric or anaesthesia. (These specialties may vary, depending on province or territory.)

The average salary for a NP is $62,000 to $117,000, depending on experience and geographic area.

What is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPNs)?

Not to be confused with Registered Practical Nurses, RPNs focus primarily on mental health, including addiction. They care for patients with mental illness, with physical and development disabilities. RPNs typically work on community mental health teams or in acute care psychiatric units.

Currently in Canada, only British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon regulate and educate psychiatric nurses as a separate profession from RNs, LPNs and NPs. In areas where RPNs aren’t regulated, nurses are encouraged to specialize in areas such as mental health or addiction.

To become an RPN, you must have a degree or diploma from a psychiatric nursing program (2-4 years) and pass the RPN Canada examination. RPNs make an average annual salary of $70,400.

What else can I do in Nursing?

Once you’ve qualified as an RN, RPN/LPN or NP, there are many more avenues to pursue in the nursing profession.

For example, if teaching is a passion, you can become a nurse educator who trains others on new health care processes or medical device techniques. Or if cancer treatment is an interest, becoming an oncology nurse allows you to work with patients in managing cancer diagnosis and treatment, including administering chemotherapy.

The Canadian Nurses Association offers 22 possible specialties as part of its specialization program. These range from cardiovascular care and emergency nursing to specialties in gerontology or pediatrics.

As the current generation of experienced nurses retire or take on managerial roles, and as the demand for care increases generally in hospital, psychiatric and community care settings, the nursing profession offers significant opportunities to have a fulfilling and rewarding career in the medical field — whichever career path, or paths, you choose.

One thought on “What types of nurses are there? From RNs to RPNs, and other options for a future in nursing”

  1. Awesome post. I am a regular visitor of your website and appreciate you taking the time to maintain and update all of these great resources.

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