Claudia Mariano has worked as a nurse practitioner for over 20 years. “If it is something to do with being a nurse practitioner, I’ve probably done it,” she says.
Mariano spent ten years at the East End community health centre in Toronto, treating both patients with complex issues and addressing the underlying causes of their challenges, including poverty. After that, she spent a decade working on a family health team, where treated illnesses, performed routine check-ups and provided post-natal care. She’s now the manager of practice and policy at the Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario, where her tasks range from answering questions from colleagues to meeting with members of parliament.
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“As nurses, I’d like to think of ourselves as lifelong learners,” said Mariano. “We’re always looking around the hospital and wondering what else we can do.”
Nurse practitioners have a wider scope of capabilities than a registered nurse, including the ability to diagnose patients and prescribe medications as well as ordering and interpreting lab tests. In addition to more responsibilities, nurse practitioners can benefit from higher pay grade, manageable work hours, and the ability to connect with patients on a more personal level.
But landing the rolde wasn’t easy for Mariano. After spending four years in university to obtain an undergraduate degree, prospective nurse practitioners then work for a minimum of two years as registered nurses. They then apply to a two-year master of nursing program, where they specialize in either pediatrics, primary care or adult care. Post-graduation, nurse practitioners are then required to pass a licensing exam. Then, they need to find—and land—the right job.
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Although Mariano agrees that the additional years of schooling could be a deterrent for some, she says the profession has become a popular option for nurses looking to expand their skill set. The added schooling can also has a career benefit—nurse practitioner was the top ranked job on Canadian Business 2019 ranking.
Nurse practitioners are increasingly seen as a cost-effective alternative to physicians, which has driven demand for them in the job market, according to Barbara Bickle, a nurse practitioner at the Scarborough Health Network and adjunct lecturer at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto.
“Hospitals are starting to recognize the value of nurse practitioners,” said Bickle. Independent practitioners with the ability to provide the same level of care as doctors is a valuable asset in a healthcare system working on how to care for an aging population.
“Looking at care gaps across provinces, one issue is accessing primary care providers in a timely manner,” says Dawn Tymianski, CEO of the Nurse Practitioners Association of Ontario. “As nurse practitioners, we’re able to peg ourselves into these gaps effectively.”
Tymianski says the nurse practitioner role is a “nice marriage” between nursing and medicine. Practitioners draw on medical knowledge while providing the care traditionally offered by a nurse.
“Over time, there have been more non-physician groups getting pieces of the medical pie,” Tymianski says. “Healthcare professionals are now doing a lot more in collaboration with others.”
And aside from job opportunities, there are other advantages to the role. For Mariano, the best part about being a nurse practitioners is having the ability to connect with patients. As the primary care provider for many of her patients, she’s able to maintain a long-lasting, personal relationship with them. This wouldn’t be possible if she were an emergency room nurse, for example. And it’s what has pushed her through the years of schooling and work. “When you’re able to make a difference in someone’s life, that is such a special privilege,” she says.