Amalgamation the next step for B.C.’s professional associations

January / February 2018   Comments

This coming May, B.C.’s four professional nursing associations — representing NPs, RNs, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs) — will join forces to become the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC (NNPBC). The move follows the trend toward stronger collaboration and unity within the profession and responds to a series of legislative changes that, since 2003, have had a significant impact on nursing advocacy in the province.

In 2003, amendments to the B.C. Health Professions Act created a common regulatory framework for all health professions. They also led to the formation of a separate regulatory body in 2005, the College of Registered Nurses of BC (CRNBC), and put an end to the Registered Nurses Association of BC (RNABC), which held both the regulatory and advocacy roles.

With its new sole mandate to protect the public, CRNBC had to move away from advocating on behalf of the profession. Sally Thorne, founding member of the Association of Registered Nurses of BC (ARNBC), recalls that “it simply didn’t occur to most nurses that the professional advocacy voice, which had been such an important part of RNABC, had ceased to exist.” It would be five years before a grassroots movement of nurses would regain this voice, through the formation of ARNBC, and two more before the association became the jurisdictional member of CNA.

This departure from nursing advocacy led to difficulties for nurses related to legislation on expanded scope of practice. Andrea Burton, ARNBC’s director of programs and stakeholder relations, explains that ongoing challenges with the integration of NPs (first introduced in 2005 in B.C.) and slow-moving legislative revisions for LPNs and RPNs, continued to “put significant pressure on the health system and led to the reinforcement of some of the hierarchies that have existed within nursing for decades.” Each of the four professional designations was advocating for policy and health-system change in a silo, with little connection or collaboration between them.

In 2013, a coalition of the four professional nursing associations began to take shape in the province. Once a month, elected representatives from each of the four designations, along with nurse educators, would meet to discuss nursing issues and develop resolutions and strategies to begin to advocate for the profession as a whole. The coalition almost immediately drew the attention of government and stakeholders as a powerful united nursing voice on pressing policy issues.

While the coalition brought the four nursing designations together on shared issues, the vision of having a single voice on all things related to nursing has not yet been realized — although, since 2016, under the BC Coalition of Nursing Associations (BCCNA) name, it has had the full support of government, health authorities and regulatory colleges. That vision will finally come to fruition this spring when the new unified nursing association (NNPBC) becomes official.

Building on consultations across the province that started last fall, the new organization will focus on key principles that nurses themselves have asked for. One of these is to retain the professional voice of their own designation. NNPBC’s governance structure demonstrates the commitment to ensure that all nursing designations can advance their own issues and interests. Each designation will elect its own council, which will continue to advocate and support the concerns, ideas and professional practice of its members. Each of those councils will then name two elected members to the NNPBC board. The board will also include representation from Indigenous nursing, nursing students, nursing schools and the public. “It’s been a long journey,” Thorne says, “but we really see this structure as the right path to follow for advancing the nursing profession and improving the health system and the health of our patients.”

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