The Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta has been on quite a journey since it’s inauguration in 2004. The creation of the organization was spearheaded, and privately funded, by Mary Nugent from Taber, Alberta who believed in the importance of association for the profession. Mary worked along with a core of NPs including Gwen Moncayo (currently working at CUPS in Calgary) and others to build momentum within the profession. Many early participants had worked in northern and rural communities and wanted to find a common voice to negotiate for funding models and structural supports for NP practice. Dr. Jennifer Knopp-Sihota (a professor at Athabasca University) was one of the first members at that time, and coordinated conference planning and communications in the 2000s. Reaching out to Jennifer and Barb Haigh (another early coordinator of the group), we discovered that initial meetings of Nurse Practitioners were small and scattered around the province.
Speaking with Donna Paradowski, an NP in Edmonton, she recalls getting together at a hotel for an early NPAA meeting around a table with nine or ten people. At the time, to her, the NPAA was a whole new adventure. Donna was in her last year of her Masters program through Athabasca University, and was just starting to uncover the potential of her new profession. One of the leaders of the meeting at the time was Dr. Kathleen Hunter, now an NP working in the continence clinic at the Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton, and the Coordinator of the Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Alberta. Kathleen feels strongly about the value of the NPAA for Nurse Practitioner practice in our province. “Since its inception, the NPAA has advocated tirelessly for the role of the NP in Alberta and championed the potential NPs have to improve access to high quality health services for Albertans.” Gwen Moncayo identifies three major successes for the NPAA over the years: the establishment of PRAC IDs for NPs so that they could refer, the capacity for NPs to prescribe controlled substances and methadone/suboxone, and the ability to identify an NP as the most responsible provider in the provincial Netcare system. These achievements have allowed us to establish ourselves as legitimate clinicians in the Alberta health marketplace.
Since the early years, hundreds of Nurse Practitioners have joined the NPAA, and major inroads have been made into diverse health care settings across Alberta. Initially, some NPs felt that the NPAA was too focused on Primary Care practice. However, in recent years, there has been an influx of members from Acute and Continuing Care, bringing an increased sense of unity in purpose. Recent NPAA presidents have been from private practice, the intensive care unit, and now supportive living. To succeed, the NPAA needs members and leaders from EVERY sector of health care in Alberta!
The NPAA has hosted an educational conference and general meeting annually since the early 2000s, though the first larger conference was held in Banff in 2007. The conference weekend has come to be anticipated as an opportunity for networking, learning, and strategic planning for our profession. What was initially a conference with relatively few attendees, planned and pulled together with minimal resources, has blossomed into a two-day event packed with educational opportunities, and an avenue for NPs who were often alone and isolated in their clinical areas to find camaraderie and support. Joanne Hodder (an early coordinator of the conference) said, “the annual conference gave NPs opportunity to reignite their passion, build knowledge, make new friends and build collegiality”.
As many know, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta has historically been the formal advocate for NPs across the province. NPs were included as a ‘Specialty Practice Group’ under CARNA, but had no power to push for any change to our legal status in the province. The Health Professions Act, passed into law in 2000, and adapted with regulations since that time, prevented NPAA from advocating for any specific changes to the use of, or compensation for, NP work due to this status. The NPAA under the presidency of Eric Lavoie, was able to register as a society, separate from CARNA, and is now able to speak on behalf of the profession as an advocate. There are still limitations to this model, as formal association dues continue to be paid annually to CARNA included in the NP licensure fee. Future negotiations may allow NPAA to take on the entire association role for the profession, freeing the leadership from any remaining conflict of interest with CARNA’s regulatory responsibilities.
It took a fire lit under us to bring Albertan NPs into a singular purpose. A representation request by two NPs to UNA in 2017 brought the NPAA into the Ministry of Labour spotlight, and prompted decisive action to move forward in a challenge to the unionization request. The NPAA has been working actively since that time to earn the legal right to advocate on behalf of NPs across Alberta. Since the Health Professions Act was developed in 2000, NP governance and negotiation has been fragmented and inequitable. The NPAA has not previously had the clout in the health marketplace to try to rectify these inequities and bring our profession into a place of influence with Alberta Health or AHS/Covenant. With the efforts of successive NPAA boards, the association is now the go-to for government departments and health organizations when NP practice is being considered. This is where the future brings opportunity – for NPs to stand united, and speak with one voice to government and health systems in the province. It is essential that all NPs come together to ensure our unique voice is heard!
One way to be unified in our message is to use our Advocacy Toolkit. Metrics are being collected, which helps NPAA Board members to support *you* as you support our profession. The kit is available on-line at https://www.npaadvocacy.ca/
Equally vital for our success as a profession moving forward is a sense of the collegiality that is present between NPs, and a sense of ownership of the profession provincially. The diversity of practice in our peers is astonishing – from outpost NPs in Northern Alberta, ICU NPs with adults and babes, NPs working to meet individual needs in private practice, to NPs working on the streets of our biggest cities with those suffering crushing need. Yet we all share a common goal, that NPs will be recognized as health care leaders, and providers of expert health care to Albertans. Ensuring that all NPs in Alberta are involved and “in the know” regarding NPAA’s advocacy is critical. Again from Kathleen Hunter – “We need to continue this work to achieve the needed changes to the health system. I am so proud of my many colleagues for their contributions over the years and encourage all NPs to get involved with the NPAA”. The association has come so far, and we have much to be proud of, yet with the membership of all NPs we can achieve much more! More resources leads to greater impact. With the support of our whole profession, much can be achieved. Those who started the association are still committed to its success, but WE NEED YOU. Support NPAA today – attend the conference, become a member or renew your membership!