Ontario’s nurse practitioners are looking to share the load of patient care with the physicians in the province.

There are many health-care needs the province’s generally small number of doctors duties that can be covered by nurse practitioners under the College of Nurses of Ontario: Administering complete physicals on adults, pre-natal and postpartum care and autonomously prescribing medicines such as antibiotics.

Theresa Agnew, a primary health-care nurse practitioner at the East End Community Health Centre, says the profession requires skill and knowledge in making a diagnosis and can lighten the burden for doctors.

“I always say there’s more than enough grass to mow,” says Agnew. “It’s a lot better in terms of decision-making. If a child comes into the clinic and I’m a registered nurse, I might write, ‘Query: Ear infection’ and a physician would examine them. As a nurse practitioner, I can write, ‘Diagnosis: Ear infection.’”

But the province’s nurse practitioners are looking to Queen’s Park to loosen regulations on their range of practices since they were legislated into existence some 10 years ago, giving them both more power and responsibility in regards to the kind of care they can give and medicines they prescribe.

“Other provinces legislated nurse practitioners in after Ontario did it, but those provinces didn’t have a list of drugs that could or could not be prescribed,” says Agnew. “We’re finding that list cumbersome: Often the amount of care we can provide is not up-to-date and we’re hoping changes will come.”

Changing the legislation corresponds with the changing times, Agnew notes. Conditions in the practice have made health care more of a team effort than ever.

“It’s a really important role in collaborative practice. There was a time when a physician would work 24/7 in a certain community,” says Agnew. “Young physicians don’t want to do 24/7, they want to have a work-life balance. With nurse practitioners working together in team-based care, they can share the load and improve patient access.”