Quebec is injecting $117 million to train 500 front-line nurse practitioners by 2018, in an effort to increase access to primary health care.
The province only has 25 so-called "supernurses" on the ground — well behind Ontario's estimated 1,900 nurse practitioners.
Nurse practitioners have a graduate degree and can prescribe medication and provide prenatal care.
They are considered key to alleviating a shortage of primary health care in Quebec.
"Naturally, it won't solve the whole problem," said Louis Godin, a GP and president of the Quebec Federation of General Practitioners. "But it's a first step that will improve accessibility, and ultimately will allow doctors to see more patients, and to take on new patients."
The 500 new nurses won't be on the ground until 2018 because it takes time to train them: They need two years of field experience before earning their full practitioner title.
"You can't eat an elephant in one bite," said Health Minister Yves Bolduc, when he was asked about the delay.
Quebec's Health Ministry has been negotiating with physicians for years over bringing in more nurse practitioners. The GP federation has been reluctant, fearing doctors would lose money and patients. "The doctors want to have nurses in their practice, but with the condition that they don't lose money," Godin said.
Quebec doctors in private practice will be eligible for a monthly $2,500 subsidy to take on a nurse practitioner. They will still receive their fee for service for every patient treated in their office, even if patients are seen by the nurse practitioner.
Six nurse practitioners graduated from McGill University this year.
Quebec has a chronic shortage of family doctors. About one third of Montrealers don't have a family GP.