Alberta will hire 30 new nurse practitioners to work in under-served areas of province

The Alberta government is spending an extra $3 million this year to hire 30 new nurse practitioners to work in under-served areas of the province. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says $3M move not intended to replace family doctors

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the government will spend $3 million to hire 30 nurse practitioners to work in primary care clinics. (Dave Bajer/CBC )

The Alberta government is spending an extra $3 million this year to hire 30 new nurse practitioners to work in under-served areas of the province. 

Some of the new hires will work in the town of Bonnyville, where 600 people are on a physician waitlist, and with the Aspen Primary Care Network, which serves the northern Alberta communities of Driftpile, Bigstone Cree, Peavine and Gift Lake. 

Some will go to the Bow Valley Primary Care Network, so give residents of Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise an option  for non-emergency medical care other than going to the hospital.

Nurse practitioners will also work in two specialized settings — an opioid dependency clinic in the Strathcona Community Hospital in Sherwood Park, and the Covenant Health Foster Care Clinic in the Edmonton Southside Primary Care Network.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the government isn't trying to replace family physicians with nurse practitioners.

"I see this as supplementing family physicians in the system," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to be able to add health professionals to a health-care team." 

There are currently 600 nurse practitioners in Alberta, three-quarters of whom work in hospitals, acute-care facilities or specialty outpatient clinics. Only 50 work in Primary Care Networks.

Anne Summach, the incoming vice-president of the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta, said the initiative gives nurse practitioners a chance to perform the full scope of allowable duties, which were expanded under the previous NDP government. 

Summach said nurse practitioners can do many of the functions of a family doctor including prescribing medication, setting fractures and helping patients manage chronic medical conditions. Almost anything, she quipped, except prescribe cannabis and eyeglasses.

The idea of the new hires is for patients to see a nurse practitioner as their main primary health care provider. Summach said NPs will work independently with their own set of patients, not as a support to a family doctor. 

Nurse practitioners earn about $120,000 a year, which is paid as a salary and not the fee-for-service usually used to remunerate physicians. Summach said this gives NPs the ability to spend more time with patients who have complex health challenges.

"Many needs require an investment of time," she said, "and this program allows for this flexible approach to meet the needs of Albertans." 

Experienced registered nurses can take the advanced nurse practitioner programs through the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and Athabasca University.


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