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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Healthy prospects for nurse-practitioners

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

Registered nurses have to think on their feet. Nurse-practitioners really have to think on their feet. That's one of the reasons why RNs are drawn to the specialty.

As Raymond Macaraeg points out, nurse-practitioners enjoy both autonomy and flexibility in the nursing care they provide, aspects of the profession he came to appreciate when, as a student RN, he attended Ryerson University.
Lori Brown
St Michael's occupational health department

Ryerson is one of three universities in Toronto -- the others are York University and U of T -- that offer nurse-practitioner programs, and is part of a 10-university consortium across the province that graduates about 75 of these professionals a year. (The program is offered in French at Laurentian University in Sudbury and at the University of Ottawa.)

Luisa Barton, regional co-ordinator for nurse-practitioner programs at the three Toronto schools, says anyone who wants to study for the qualification must be an RN in Ontario and have two years nursing experience.

"It's competitive," Barton says. "We fill all our seats. We can't take everybody."

Full-time study to become a nurse-practitioner takes 12 months, and part-time students are allowed up to three years to finish. Barton puts the average age of her students in their 30s, although she says the range starts at about 24 and there was one RN who was 60.

Just as most nurses are women, so too are nurse-practitioners. This year at Ryerson in a class of 20 there were 15 women and five men.

Tuition fees are about $6,000 for part-time study and about $6,600 for full time.

Nurse-practitioners differ from RNs in that they can diagnose and manage disease, order tests, prescribe certain drugs and perform other tasks within their scope of practise.
Luisa Barton
Regional co-ordinator for York, Toronto and Ryerson Universities

They don't replace doctors, Barton points out, but can and do alleviate some of the pressure on general practitioners.

Typically, nurse-practitioners can be found in community health centres, long-term care facilities, northern hospitals and isolated nursing stations. Starting salaries for nurse-practitioners depend on where they work, Barton says, but they're usually in the $60,000 range and up.

Macaraeg, who writes his nurse-practitioner exams next month, works as a primary health-care nurse at Parkdale Community Health Centre at the moment. He says nurse-practitioners don't just deal with individuals' illnesses in isolation but look at them in their entirety. That could mean their lack of housing (Macaraeg deals extensively with the homeless), their social circumstances and their use of drugs or alcohol.

"They (nurse-practitioners) do it all," Macaraeg says. "But as an RN you provide their treatment then off you go." Or as Barton puts it, "We don't just do illness, we also do wellness."
  • Ryerson is one of three Toronto universities offering the nurse-practitioner program.
  • Students can study for the certificate full time or part time.
  • Registration as an RN in Ontario is required to enrol, as is two years of nursing experience.
  • Nurse-practitioners work in community health centres, long-term care facilities, northern hospitals and isolated nursing stations.
  • Starting salaries vary depending on location with some positions paying $60,000 plus.

  • Lori Brown, a nurse-practitioner in occupational health at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, says she's found her niche after 20 years of nursing, including spells at Toronto General Hospital and in community health, and can't say enough about the Ryerson program.

    She says it was attractive because it had been prepared with experienced nurses in mind and was tailored to the adult learner. "It's a high quality program. The content is evidence based," Brown says.

    There's a great need for nurse-practitioners, Barton says, and it's obvious that any RN who qualifies will find a job in a hurry. Macaraeg, for example, already has his nurse-practitioner position lined up -- at Parkdale Community Health Centre. His employer has been supportive, he says, and the minute he has his license there'll be a job waiting for him.

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