For four years, Elaine Clark was the sole nurse practitioner working for the Vancouver Island Health Authority in Nanaimo.
That changed when the health authority recently hired another nurse practitioner to work at the public health unit on Grant Avenue, focusing on seniors’ care.
“I’m so excited we’ve doubled our population of nurse practitioners. I think there is a huge role for nurse practitioners in Nanaimo,” Clark said. “I wish it didn’t take four years to get a new NP in Nanaimo.”
Nurse practitioners will be more empowered to carry out their role as primary health care providers next year under new amendments to provincial legislation that expands their scope of practice.
Clark, who works out of the Medical Arts Centre in Port Place Shopping Centre, said the changes will bring better care to patients.
“This is going to streamline and eliminate barriers and give us more autonomy to practice our full scope,” said Clark.
She said NPs would often have to track down a doctor to sign off on forms or get the patient to book a second appointment, which caused difficulties for patients already facing barriers to access health care.
The amendments passed third reading last week and are expected to take effect next spring.
Nurse practitioners were introduced in B.C. in 2005 to provide primary care, chronic disease prevention and management, and health promotion.
Changes include: giving nurse practitioners the authority to: provide certification for pregnancy, parental and compassionate care leave; provide diagnoses for a person who has sustained psychological harm; and issue a certificate permitting a student to return to school after being absent due to physical or mental health reasons and more.
Joanne Maclaren, VIHA manager of professional practice services, said the changes will increase efficiency as nurse pratitioners take on fuller roles as primary health care providers.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with additional education at the master’s degree level.
The Ministry of Health says NPs are a critical component of the ministry’s human resources plan, particularly to deliver care to rural and aboriginal communities, seniors and people suffering from mental health and addiction issues.
Clark said nurse practitioners are one component to increase people’s access to medical care, but more alternative need to be examined to fit different situations.
There are more than 200 nurse practitioners in B.C., with about 60 working as RNs.
Health authorities are the largest employer of nurse practitioners, employing about 75 per cent. Since 2005/06 the province has committed $62.6 million to health authorities to hire NPs. Nurse Practitioners are also hired directly by physicians and other types of employers such as educational institutions to work in student health services clinics.
Nurse practitioners are paid a salary unlike the fee-for-service model paid to doctors.
VIHA currently employs 23 nurse practitioners, up from 18 in 2010.