In Ontario, nursing is one profession with two categories: Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) and Registered Nurse (RN). RPNs are health care professionals. They combine nursing skill, knowledge and judgment and are experts of nursing care in various sectors of healthcare. There are areas of overlap between the two categories, but there are differences as well. These differences are based on entry-level and ongoing nursing knowledge and competencies.
RPNs and RNs study from the same body of nursing knowledge. The foundational knowledge base of RNs and RPNs is different as a result of differences in basic nursing education. RNs study for a longer period of time, allowing for greater depth and breadth of foundational knowledge in the areas of clinical practice, decision-making, critical thinking, leadership, research utilization and resource management. RPNs study for a shorter period of time, resulting in a more focused body of foundational knowledge in the areas identified above. The autonomy of the RPN is influenced by the complexity of the client’s condition. RPNs have greater autonomy when caring for a client with less-complex conditions. As client complexity increases, there is a corresponding increase in the need for RPNs to consult with RNs.
In Ontario, RPNs are community college graduates. After graduation, they write a national certification examination. Once they successfully complete this exam, they are registered to practice as a nurse by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO). All nurses must renew their CNO registration annually, maintaining up-to-date skills and knowledge of current practices, to preserve their professional standing. RPNs are regulated by the CNO through the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1993, and the Nursing Act, 1991 as amended. There are currently 44,195 RPNs registered in Ontario of which 39,111 are currently practicing.