Different Types of Nurses in Canada Explained

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Now more than ever, nursing is an essential profession in Canada. There are more than 350,000 nurses regulated in Canada, but the country always needs more.

Nurses provide an essential service to patients of all varieties and ages. However, there are many different types of nurses in Canada.

Are you interested in pursuing a career in nursing? Are you just looking to learn more? Here, we will outline what kinds of nursing careers are available in Canada, what makes them different from each other, and some different potential career paths.

Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

RPNs and LPNs require the least education and training, and therefore most often work in a collaborative capacity with other health professionals.

They might undertake tasks like blood pressure readings, inserting catheters, or answering basic patient questions. These nurses tend to work with more stable patients that have less complicated conditions.

You might hear RPN and LPN used interchangeably throughout Canada, and there’s a reason for that. The job is known as LPN throughout most of Canada, except in Ontario, where it’s called RPN.

Aside from that, the jobs have precisely the same responsibilities and require the same training.

RPN and LPN Qualifications

Anyone wanting to be an RPN or LPN must complete a two-year practical nursing program from an accredited institution.

These programs focus on foundational, practical education to prepare potential nurses to work in the field. Potential LPNs and RPNs must also pass Canada’s national licensing exam before being able to practice.

Registered Nurse (RN)

RNs are generally thought of as generalists. They will hold a much deeper knowledge base than an RPN or an LPN.

RNs will handle duties such as assisting physicians, administering medication, and taking a medical history. RNs will generally handle more complex cases and patients and will often focus on a specific specialty as they progress in their careers.

RN Qualifications

Prospective RNs will need a four-year nursing degree from an accredited institution. There are a few varieties of these programs, but the most common are the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Bachelor of Nursing (BN) degrees.

You will also have to satisfy the requirements of the province’s regulatory body. These will vary by region and territory, so be aware before applying for a particular position.

Finally, you would have to pass a registration exam and complete a criminal background check.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

NPs generally will start their career as RNs before moving into a specific discipline. NPs offer much more comprehensive treatment to patients, diagnose illnesses, offer medications, and discuss treatment plans.

The most significant difference between an RN and an NP is that an RN does tasks like help to administer medicine prescribed by a physician.

An NP, on the other hand, can start treatment plans and prescribe medications themselves.

These duties may sound like what a physician would generally do, but that’s not the case. The role of the NP is complementary to that of a physician.

NPs can be the first stop for a patient and handle more straightforward issues, allowing physicians to focus on more complex treatments and unclear diagnoses.

NP Qualifications

An NP has to undergo all the education of an RN as a first step, but the requirements to be a licensed NP in Canada are even more rigorous.

Any prospective NP will require a master’s degree or advanced certificate in nursing. This requirement is usually a minimum of two further years of education from the RN degrees, and their education will generally focus on regulatory requirements and best practices.

NPs will also have to classify themselves into different subspecialties, depending on the province or territory they’re looking to work in. In several instances, these specialties relate to age. The three categories are:

  • Pediatric- Working with babies and children
  • Adult- Working with adults
  • Geriatric- Working with elderly patients

These will vary by province. Specialties can also relate to care. So, you could be an NP focused on cardiovascular care or gastroenterology, among other things. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) administers these specialties, renewed once every five years.


One of the great things about nursing in Canada is that it offers a lot of different potential paths. RPNs, LPNs, RNs, and NPs can all specialize in one or more areas. Here are just a few possible other options.

Travel Nurse

Travel nurses take on temporary assignments in different locations. Their responsibilities generally are equivalent to an RN. If you’re a nurse who wants to see other areas, this would be a great fit.

Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses specialize in cancer and work with patients who are working through cancer diagnosis and treatment. Potential tasks for an oncology nurse include administering treatments like chemotherapy and working with patients and their families through the diagnosis period.

Nurse Midwife

Nurse-midwives work with parents on home births. Aside from helping to deliver babies, nurse-midwives assist in pregnancy, labor, and postpartum care. This job can include:

  • Counseling
  • Breastfeeding training
  • Education for new and expecting parents
  • Birth counseling

Mental Health Nurse

Mental health nurses are skilled in mental health assessment and treatment. They can provide intervention and support not just in hospitals but in outpatient clinics, schools, and elsewhere.

Mental health nurses provide an essential service in thinking of the emotional, social, and mental wellbeing of their patients.

Many mental health nurses also specialize further in issues such as psychiatric care and addiction.

Educator Nurse

Educator nurses focus less on patient care and more on educating future nurses and other health care professionals.

These nurses may work in universities, practical clinics, or other locations to teach and demonstrate best practices and proper care techniques.

These nurses play a huge role in ensuring the future health and safety of Canadian citizens.


If you’re interested in becoming a nurse in Canada, you have a wealth of options in front of you.

The three main types of nurses can become specialized in many areas. Being a nurse is a rewarding and remarkable job for helping your community.

Good luck!

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Avlin is passionate about helping aspirants become better personal support workers. He is an entrepreneur and runs a clinic in Toronto.

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