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Nurse practitioners 'grossly underutilized,' Alberta group tells province

Alberta's nurse practitioners say many new graduates are not finding jobs and they want a new funding model to address the situation.

75% of new graduates not finding work as NPs

Eric Lavoie, president of the Alberta Association of Nurse Practitioners, says nurse practitioners are a grossly underutilized workforce. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Alberta's nurse practitioners say many new graduates are not finding jobs and they want a new funding model to address the situation.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) have more training than RNs, allowing them to diagnose, order tests and prescribe drugs.

Their services cost the province less than the same procedures billed to Alberta Health by doctors.

But the president of the Alberta Association of Nurse Practitioners, Eric Lavoie, says NPs just aren't being used.

Candice Lazarenko, who just graduated as a nurse practitioner, is having to look out of province for a job. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

"About 75 per cent of new graduates or recent graduates are not finding employment in their field," he said.

"And this flies in the face of countless reports that are provincial and national in scope that calls for the immediate integration and utilization of nurse practitioners."

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says the department is working on a new strategy.

"Certainly that's not the kind of ideal outcome for the nurse practitioners or for our province. They're highly skilled and we want to find ways to put them to work," she said. 

There is no word on when any changes will come.

Candice Lazarenko, who put her career as an RN on hold to go back to school for two more years, just graduated as a nurse practitioner.

"I've looked all over Alberta. Now I'm actually having to look out of province to see if I can get employment," she said.

Lavoie says the biggest barrier is the lack of a direct funding model.

"For example, if a rural community can't find a physician — a family doctor — to service their community, they could find a nurse practitioner," he said.

But that clinic must pay a nurse practitioner's salary out of its own budget, while a doctor is paid directly by the province.

But Hoffman says paying NPs in a direct funding model might not be the most effective policy.

"We want to make sure there's a thoughtful, integrated plan and when we have it through Alberta Health Services — and we have the team working together under a budget envelope — it certainly enables us to empower the team to find the best ways to allocate those resources among themselves," she said. 

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