UBC nurse practitioner program to double in size

adrian dix Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, announces new opportunities for nurse practitioners in BC. Credit: Province of British Columbia

Thanks to a $115 million investment from the Government of British Columbia, 200 nurse practitioners (NPs) will be hired to primary care positions in BC over the next three years. An additional $1.2 million in funding will create 30 new NP seats at three BC universities by 2020, including 15 more seats in the UBC School of Nursing’s nurse practitioner program this fall.

The efforts are part of a broader provincial initiative to provide better-quality, more convenient primary health care services to British Columbians, approximately 780,000 of whom lack adequate access to basic medical help. The services will be offered by teams of family physicians, NPs, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals through new primary care networks, including urgent primary care and community health centres, which will cover 70 per cent of BC communities. The networks should also help relieve the pressure on hospital emergency rooms, where many people are forced to go — and often wait for hours — for primary care. 

“NPs are a viable, patient-centred solution to improving access, but we know that compared to other jurisdictions, BC has not made the best use of NPs,” said Adrian Dix, BC’s Minister of Health. “With the steps we are taking to fully leverage and integrate NPs into the province’s primary care system, this is about to change.”

Since 2005, when legislation first established their role in British Columbia, NPs have successfully diagnosed, treated and managed the health issues of thousands of patients in BC. Able to prescribe treatments and medications, refer patients to specialists, order and interpret lab test results and provide a host of other forms of clinical care without physician supervision, NPs — also known as advanced practice nurses — can deliver nearly the same primary care as general practitioners, but at a lower cost. A 2015 University of Victoria report concluded that "NPs add value to the healthcare system by increasing access to healthcare for patients. The care is comprehensive and convenient, and in locations with frequent turnover of physicians the NP provides stability for patients and co-workers."

Yet until now, NPs have not been nearly as well-supported in BC as they have in other provinces and elsewhere in the world; there are currently only 426 NPs province-wide. The UVic report identified a lack of awareness of the NP role by administrators and physicians, restrictive legislation governing the NP role and the absence of a sustained funding model as some of the major barriers to the further integration of NPs in BC.

“UBC started offering a nurse practitioner program in 2003, and many of our graduates have since gone on to serve in leadership roles in primary health care in BC," said Elizabeth Saewyc, director of the UBC School of Nursing, which Maclean's named the best nursing school in Canada in 2018. “I'm thrilled that the new investment will enable us to double the number of graduates from this program.”

To help fill the primary care cap, the Province will also create 200 general practitioner positions in BC, as well as offer attractive new opportunities, including alternative payment arrangements, to family medicine residents in order to encourage more medical students to pursue the specialty.