P.E.I.'s Health Department hopes nurse practitioners will help ease the strain on the Island's health care system.  

The plan is to hire five more nurse practitioners to work in communities around the province. Health PEI expects three nurse practitioners will be hired soon, but it may take longer to hire the other two.

Nurse practitioners have more specialized skills than registered nurses. They can diagnose, treat and prescribe medications. Some will likely work in walk-in clinics.

There are three nurse practitioners already working in Souris, Hunter River and at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

Improving front line services will keep people healthier, Keith Dewar of Health PEI, said Friday — especially those dealing with chronic problems. 

"It's trying to ensure that people have access to the primary health care needs to deal with their chronic illnesses so they don't get admitted to hospital or have to go to the emergency department because their illness has gotten to the point where they need immediate support," he said.

The new job postings are based out of Queens County and Summerside. 

Health PEI said this is just the beginning. Officials hope to keep adding more nurse practitioners to the system, saying it's a trend that's working well throughout Canada.

Seven years ago, a pilot project in O'Leary fell apart. The two nurse practitioners left the clinic because they were frustrated they couldn't do the work they wanted to do.

The PEI Medical Society at the time was against the idea of nurse practitioners.

Legislation has been changed since then to officially recognize nurse practitioners and the Medical Society is now on board, as long as the nurses work in collaboration with doctors.