How to Become a Nurse in Canada? A Must-Read Guide

Nurses are the core of the healthcare system and are often the first medical staff to interact with patients.

But nursing is also one of the most notoriously hard careers to break into and requires exceptional commitment and dedication.

If you’re passionate about starting a nursing career and want to learn more about how to become a nurse in Canada, this article has the answers to all your pressing questions.

Let’s get started!

Education Requirements for Becoming a Nurse in Canada

To become a registered nurse (RN), it’s mandatory to finish a four-year post-secondary education. This is necessary to prepare you for a successful nursing career. However, Quebec is an exception — a three-year Diploma of Collegial Studies (DEC) is sufficient for becoming an RN. 

Below we’ll go through the education requirements to be a nurse in Canada.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Before becoming a nurse in Ontario, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This is the minimum education for an entry into the nursing career required by most provincial and territorial nurses’ associations.

That said, there are various nursing schools to choose from. So, the best way to do this is to check the list of accredited nursing programs by The Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing (CASN) for the province you plan to study in.

For instance, becoming a nurse in Ontario requires all potential nurses to obtain a baccalaureate degree, which is another term for bachelor’s degree, to start a nursing career. This is also a four-year nursing program and students can choose from a list of nursing schools and continuing education options.

Diploma of Collegial Studies (for Quebec Residents)

If you live in Quebec and want to start your nursing education there, you must complete a 3-year Diploma of Collegial Studies (DEC) nursing program. Or, you can pursue a university degree, by getting a 3-year Bachelor of Science (BAC) degree in nursing.

How to Get a Nursing License in Canada?

In order to work as a nurse, you must obtain a license and register for the type of nursing you want to practice.

There are several steps to becoming a licensed nurse in Canada. Let’s check them out.

1. Submit an Application To Your Province’s Nurse Association for Assessment

All prospective nurses must apply to their provincial nurses’ association for assessment. The regulatory body in your respective province will ask you to take the registration exam (upon successful application). This exam is needed to evaluate your competence level in nursing.

For example, in Ontario, all nursing graduates must apply to The College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) for assessment. Therefore, if you’re planning to get a registered nurse job there, you’ll need to register with the CNO. However, to do that you first need to pass the registration exam.

Consequently, you’d also need to take a separate jurisprudence exam by the College, which is completed online. The aim of this exam is to measure your knowledge of the nursing laws and regulations, professional liability, and ethical code.

At the same time, all Quebec nursing graduates are required to apply to the l’Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ). This application is essential for your nursing career because students that have a QIIQ registration will be granted interaction/ access with patients throughout their nursing training.

Note: Your application process can last up to a year, during which time your application remains active.

2. Take The NCLEX

The next step is to take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) exam if you want to start practicing as an entry-level nurse. The NCLEX is a necessary standardized test you need to be registered as a nurse. The NCLEX consists of two different tests:

  • NCLEX PN – for practitioner nurses;
  • NCLEX RN – for registered nurses.

The regulatory body you’re applying to will provide you with the essential application materials.

Once you’re done with the application, you can register for the exam at the NCLEX official website or by phone.

To be eligible for taking the NCLEX RN exam, you must:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in nursing;
  • If your bachelor’s degree doesn’t meet the Canadian criteria, you must have completed a bridge course in nursing;
  • Authorization to Test (ATT) – the average duration of an ATT is no longer than 90 days.

Still, you better contact the organization in your area to see what exactly you need before applying.

3. Fulfill The Eligibility Requirements

After you successfully pass the NCLEX exam, there are some other requirements for becoming a registered nurse in Canada.

As follows:

  • Proof of proficiency in English or French (written and spoken).
  • Registering or being eligible to register for the nursing program where you completed your requirements.
  • Proof of Canadian Citizenship or authorization under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in Canada to engage in nursing.
  • Show documents verified by the NNAS.
  • The candidate must be licensed by the nursing regulatory body where they wish to work.
  • Provide a criminal record check.

It’s important to complete all the above steps before applying for registration. Otherwise, it could prevent you from continuing with the process.


How To Get Better Chances of Becoming a Nurse in Canada?

The career path in nursing is ever-evolving, and there are many ways to optimize your search for a registered nurse job.

For instance, you can expand your scope of practice through additional education. Extra educative programs give you the skills and credentials needed to specialize in a specific area of nursing.

Get a Certification

All nurses in Canada can specialize and get a CNA certification. It’s a nationally recognized nursing specialty credential comprising 22 nursing specialties.

Some of the specialties include

  • community health nursing,
  • cardiovascular nursing,
  • critical care nursing,
  • emergency nursing,
  • pediatric nursing, etc.

Nevertheless, if you want to be certified in a specialized area, you must pass a certification exam. Once that’s done, you’ll get a credential that grants you a five-year validity. After the five-year mark, you can renew it by retaking the exam or submitting a record of continuous learning hours.

Become a Nurse Practitioner

All registered nurses have the option to become nurse practitioners (NPs). To become one, usually, a master’s degree or completing an advanced nursing education is required. Plus, you’ll need to have an extended period of safe practice as an RN and completing a registration exam.

NPs also must be registered with a regulatory body in all provinces across Canada.

For example, in Ontario, NP is a protected title. Hence, they must use the title RN to represent RN in the extended class or Nurse Practitioner. Besides, NPs have the option to become certified in primary health care, adult nursing, pediatrics, and anesthesia.

Can International Nurses Get Registered in Canada?

All international nurses are eligible to apply for a full Canadian Permanent Resident visa. They can do this through various immigrant programs like: the Express Entry Program, the Federal Skilled Worker Immigration Program, or Provincial Nominee Programs.

International nurses planning to work in Canada must first complete a bridging course to get the clinical experience needed for nursing registration. After completing the bridging program, nurses will get a verification of the course as proof of practice.

To be considered for an RN, you must first join the Canadian Nurses Association (CAN), – or the Canadian Council for Practical Nurse Regulators (CCPNR). You can do this easily by applying to the regulatory body of the province where you’re planning to work.

Ultimately, the individual provinces and territories are those that establish the registration requirements to be a nurse in Canada.

What is a bridging program?

A bridging course is obligatory if you’re a skilled nurse outside of Canada. Through this course, you’ll be able to experience a Canadian hospital setting and earn a recognized certificate to ensure your eligibility to work as an RN.

In fact, the bridging program is designed for international nurses who have a specific academic level. The program aims to help them compensate for the competency gaps to match the Canadian nursing standards and be able to start working as nurses.

Bridging subjects often include:

  • Research
  • Ethics
  • Health assessment and technology in healthcare
  • Real-life clinical experience, etc.

The BIEN program (Bridge Program for Internationally Educated Nurses) is suitable for those who want to practice nursing in Ontario. This program helps potential nurses by providing in-depth knowledge, polishing their language fluency, and preparing students for work through clinical experience. Upon completing the program, international nurses can register in Ontario.

Bridging programs vary in length and nursing subjects; however, they’re mandatory for any international nurse wanting to work in Canada.


What Are The Responsibilities of Registered Nurses?

Primarily, RPs provide comprehensive care for patients. However, there are many other responsibilities an RP does for the well-being of the patients and their overall treatment.

The following are among the many responsibilities an RP nurse does:

  • Ordering and interpreting tests.
  • Prescribing medications.
  • Collaborating with the medical team.
  • Assessing and diagnosing.
  • Performing specific medical procedures.
  • Drug administration.
  • Drawing blood samples.
  • Wound care.
  • Monitoring and documenting patients’ health, etc.

In a nutshell, a nurse’s role in a patient’s life is vital for their physical and mental health.

Finishing Thoughts

The path to a registered nurse job is certainly not an easy one. It consists of several stages during which an assessment of your knowledge and experience is a must. Thus, a nursing career requires persistent effort and lots of patience — it’s a process of continuing education.

But if you have a strong passion and desire to help other people, nursing is surely one of the most rewarding professions.


What does a registered nurse do?

In general, RNs have many responsibilities. They provide a direct assessment, educate patients about illness and prevention, and supervise licensed practical nurses and other medical staff. But, collaborating with health team members is critical for effective patient care.

What is the average time length of becoming a nurse in Canada?

You need complete a four-year post-secondary education in nursing. Depending on the province and territory, some may require completing a three-year nursing program. You can also encounter two-year extensive nursing courses/programs in some provinces.

How much does it take to become a nurse in Canada?

Are you in private or public school, pursuing a bachelor’s degree or a PhD, etc.? The price of nursing education depends on these and various other factors.

For instance, a four-year PhD course in Canada costs anywhere from CAD $10,000 to CAD $20,000. Whereas a tuition fee for an undergraduate program is over CAD $18,000. Meanwhile, a graduate program costs more than CAD $12,000 a year. 

However, generally speaking, studying for a nurse in Canada can cost around CAD $40.000 to CAD $50,000 per year. Yet, you should be prepared to pay even higher prices since each university has a different price tag.

Is it easy to become an RN in Canada?

The process of becoming a nurse in Canada isn’t at all easy. It requires lots of work and dedication, and it doesn’t stop at only having a bachelor’s degree. There are several steps to becoming an RN after your education. And the assessment of your knowledge and nursing practice is an integral part of the whole process.


Mila is an English literature student and a devoted animal's rights advocate. Despite her love for the written word, she's a keen observer of the everyday world and an excellent researcher with a bright and fresh perspective. When she's not doing research, you're most likely to find her out for a walk with her dog or binge-watching a TV show.

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