LAKELAND - In November, the UCP government announced that Nurse Practitioners (NPs) can set up their own publicly funded private practices as soon as January to help with staff shortages, which could be a welcome addition to rural areas struggling to attract healthcare professionals.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are nurses with graduate degrees with additional advanced skills and knowledge. The College of Registered Nurses of Alberta regulates them. They can diagnose and treat common health conditions and minor injuries, order and operate laboratory tests, prescribe drugs, and make referrals to specialists.
“This initiative benefits everyone, especially those who can't find doctors right now,” says Scott Cyr, UCP MLA for the Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul riding. Cyr says wait times to see a doctor can be as much as four to six hours in emergency departments in his constituency.
Currently, 600,000 Albertans are without a family doctor.
In Alberta, NPs are already working in clinics alongside teams of doctors, taking care of patients in an integrated way, but Alberta Medical Association (AMA) president Dr. Paul Parks points out there are not “hundreds of them ready to go out and work independently.”
“The system absolutely needs more of all of our workforce - more nurse practitioners, more nurses, more physician assistants and more physicians,” says Parks.
Both Cyr and Parks agree NPs will never replace family doctors. However, Parks wants nurse practitioners to be incorporated into teams rather than working independently and elaborates how patients with more complex needs may need to see a doctor instead of an NP.
According to information released by the Government of Alberta, through a $2-million grant over the next three years, the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta will help implement a compensation model, recruit other nurse practitioners to participate, and provide support as they work to set up their own clinics.
“The new compensation model will be phased in and is expected to launch in early 2024 when nurse practitioners who want to go into independent practice will be asked to submit expressions of interest,” according to the Government of Alberta.
Parks noted that in rural Alberta, many Nurse Practitioner job listings have gone unfilled for extended periods. In areas like Fort McMurray and the Lakeland region, some positions for Nurse Practitioners have been posted for more than a year.
“If they can increase the workforce for physicians, nurse practitioners, and nurses, and have them all integrated and working together, it’ll be a way better outcome for patients,” says Parks.
Cyr also expressed the need for more doctors and NPs. “You just want health care to be at a place where people go into their hospital and know they can get the service that they desire and deserve,” says the MLA.