Canada's nursing workforce grows 9% in five years

Registered nurse-to-population ratio still lower than in the early 1990s

OTTAWA, Dec. 9 /CNW/ - Between 2005 and 2009, Canada gained just more than 27,000 nurses, bringing the total regulated nursing workforce to approximately 348,500, according to a new report released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). This represents an increase of 9% in the number of working nurses over five years. In comparison, the Canadian population grew by 5% over the same period.

CIHI's report, Regulated Nurses: Canadian Trends, 2005 to 2009, examines supply and workforce trends for Canada's largest group of health care professionals at the national, provincial and health region levels. Three-quarters of the Canadian nursing workforce is made up of registered nurses (RNs), followed by licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs). RPNs are regulated exclusively in the four Western provinces and one territory (since 2009).

Over the past five years, growth in the RN and LPN workforces has exceeded the rate of growth of the Canadian population, while growth in the RPN workforce has kept pace with population growth in the western provinces they serve. However, when examining the workforce of registered nurses, for which longer-term data is available, CIHI figures show there are actually fewer registered nurses today relative to the size of the population than there were 20 years ago. In 1992, there were 824 RNs for every 100,000 Canadians, compared to 789 per 100,000 in 2009.

"In the mid-1990s, with cuts to health care budgets across Canada, we saw reductions in the numbers of nurses and other health care professionals working in this country, as governments implemented hiring freezes and early retirement packages," says Michael Hunt, CIHI's Director of Pharmaceuticals and Health Workforce Information Services. "Despite reinvestments in health care over the past 10 years, the ratio of nurses to the Canadian population has still not returned to what it was in the early '90s. In contrast, the number of physicians relative to the size of the population is now at an all-time high."

Age of nurses stabilizing, education level rising

Between 2005 and 2009, the average age of a Canadian nurse remained stable at 45. Within the profession, LPNs were the youngest, with their average age dropping from 44 to 43, while the average age of RNs remained stable at 45. RPNs had the highest average age in the nursing workforce (48).

In 2009, 37% of RNs in the workforce had obtained a university baccalaureate degree as their highest level of education in nursing, compared to 32% in 2005. The number of RNs who had obtained a college diploma as their highest level of education in nursing decreased from 66% in 2005 to 60% in 2009.

Mix of nurses changing with more LPNs, nurse practitioners

In 2009, registered nurses continued to represent the largest proportion of the nursing workforce (76%), although their share of the total workforce has decreased since 2005 (when it was 78%). Conversely, the proportion of licensed practical nurses has been increasing. In 2009, there were 228 LPNs for every 100,000 Canadians, up from 201 in 2005. Over the past five years, LPNs experienced the highest growth rate—more than 18%, or double the growth of the overall nursing workforce.

The number of nurse practitioners (NPs) in Canada also experienced a boost, more than doubling over the past five years and increasing by 22% between 2008 and 2009. Nurse practitioners now represent 0.7% of the total registered nursing workforce.

"Nurse practitioners are an emerging specialty," says Carol Brulé, CIHI's Manager of Health Human Resources. "They receive an education in health assessment, diagnosis and management of illness and injuries, and they have responsibilities that include ordering tests and prescribing medication; they are a small but increasingly important group."

Quick facts on nurses

  • Between 2005 and 2009, Canada's regulated nursing workforce grew by nearly 9%.

  • Growth in the RN and LPN workforces has exceeded the growth of the Canadian population.

  • In 1992, there were 824 RNs for every 100,000 Canadians, compared to 789 RNs for every 100,000 Canadians in 2009.

  • Between 2005 and 2009, the average age of a Canadian nurse remained stable at 45.

  • In 2009, 37% of RNs in the workforce had obtained a baccalaureate as their highest level of education in nursing, compared to 32% in 2005.

  • The number of LPNs increased by more than 18% between 2005 and 2009, outpacing growth in the Canadian population.

  • The number of NPs more than doubled between 2005 and 2009 and increased by 22% between 2008 and 2009. NPs represent only 0.7% of the total registered nursing workforce.

The report and the following figures are available from CIHI's website, at www.cihi.ca.

Figure 1  Registered Nursing Workforce per 100,000 Population, Canada, 1986 to 2009 (Figure 6 in the report)
   
Figure 2  Average Age of Regulated Nursing Workforce Compared to Selected Health Occupations, Canada, 2005 to 2009 (Figure 9 in the report)
   
Table 1  Registered Nursing Workforce, by Highest Education in Nursing, by Jurisdiction and Canada, 2005 to 2009 (Table 13 in the report)
   
Table 2  Nurse Practitioner Workforce, by Jurisdiction and Canada, 2005 to 2009 (Table 19 in the report)

SOURCE Canadian Institute for Health Information

For further information: For further information:

Media contacts  
Angela Baker
416-549-5402
Cell: 416-459-6855
anbaker@cihi.ca
Jennie Hoekstra
519-453-5990
Cell: 519-317-1105
jhoekstra@cihi.ca


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