N.L. changing regulations to allow RNs to prescribe medication

Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to allow nurses to prescribe medication and refer patients to specialists.

New rules would also allow nurses to refer patients to specialists

A pill bottle with a handful of pills in front of it.
Newfoundland and Labrador is paving the way for registered nurses to be able to prescribe medication. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to ease the burden on the health-care system by expanding the scope of practice for registered nurses, allowing them to prescribe medication and refer patients to specialists.

The Department of Health and Community Services announced Monday morning it's amending the regulations of the act governing registered nurses.

"We understand that there is a shortage of health-care professionals, not only in this province but globally. And working in collaboration with our colleges, the regulatory bodies, will help enhance the ability of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to get the health care they need by the right person in the right place," Health Minister Tom Osborne told reporters at the House of Assembly on Monday.

In order to prescribe medication, nurses will be required to undergo three training modules, which Osborne says will take about a year to complete, and continuous monitoring for competency requirements. The province is also looking to adapt the training into the current curriculum at the province's Centre for Nursing Studies. 

Once that training is completed, registered nurses would be able to prescribe, order lab testing or diagnostic screening tests and refer patients to specialists.

While expanding the scope of practice for nurses could seem to increase their workload during an already stressful time, Osborne says it will do the opposite — allowing them to jump through fewer hoops in order to give patients the care they need.

The changes still need to be published in the Newfoundland and Labrador Gazette before coming into effect. But Lynn Power, executive director of the College of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador, says it will be a big step forward.

"This is an opportunity to work to the full scope of practice, to work more in the team approach, have more independence and accountability without reducing any standards," Power said. "I think nurses who engage in the RN prescribing will be very proud … pleased to help their communities."

Osborne said work is also being done to expand the scope of practice for pharmacists in the province but didn't elaborate. The provincial government announced shortly after Osborne's meeting with reporters that an announcement related to pharmacists will be made on Tuesday morning.

A collage of two photos. On the left, a man wearing a black suit and salmon colour shirt stands in front of a microphone. On the right, a woman with ginger-coloured hair wearing pink stands in front of the same microphone.
Health Minister Tom Osborne, left, and College of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Lynn Power say expanding the scope of practice for registered nurses is a valuable step forward for health care in the province. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

The province is also bringing in other amendments to introduce a new supervision program, called the supervised practice experience program.

The program will allow a new path to licensure for registered nurse applicants who don't have enough hours punched to meet licensing requirements in the province. This gives an alternative for nurses who would currently be required to do the registered nurse re-entry program, which costs up to $10,000 and can take 18 months to complete.

Osborne said the program is a valuable tool in attracting both new, internationally trained nurses and nurses already in the province who haven't been able to keep their currency of practice.

"There's lots of interest,," Power added, saying between 10 and 15 nurses have already begun the process to take part in the program.

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With files from Peter Cowan