February 2019

Do you know what counts as “practicing nursing”?

CNO receives hundreds of questions from nurses every year. One of the most frequently asked questions is: “What defines nursing practice?”

It seems like the answer should be simple. However, nursing practice is diverse. It isn’t defined by role, title, practice setting or a procedure or activity. Practicing nursing is not the same as being employed as a nurse. In fact, you can still be practicing nursing even if you are not required to be a nurse in your role.

One requirement for staying registered in the General or Extended Class is that you’ve practiced nursing within the last three years. When you hold yourself out as a nurse, the public must have absolute confidence in the care you provide. They must feel certain that your knowledge is current, and that you meet all the requirements of practice in the profession. In addition, you must be aware of changes to nursing legislation. These are all required for safe patient care. To help you determine if you are practicing nursing, we have developed reflective questions.

Are you practicing nursing?
Review our resources, including the reflective questions, to decide if you are practicing. The questions include asking yourself if you have a direct or indirect effect on a patient’s care. Or, are you using your nursing knowledge, skill and judgment in your role?

If you determine you are practicing nursing, you have a professional commitment and accountability to continually improve your competence. You do this by reflecting on your practice to identify your learning needs, and setting and achieving relevant learning goals.

Test your knowledge: Do you know if the following would be considered “nursing practice”?

Sally retired from her nursing position a year ago, and has been assisting a neighbour who has health conditions. Does this care count as “nursing practice”?

No. Time spent caring for a friend or family member is not considered nursing practice. You must be registered with CNO to practice as a nurse in either a paid or voluntary role. Retired nurses can either join the Non-Practising Class or resign their membership from CNO.

Nadira is a professor in a nursing program, and hasn’t had direct interaction with patients for years. Should she register in the General Class?

Yes. Nadira is practicing nursing because she uses her nursing knowledge, skill and judgment when teaching students and supporting them in the provision of care.

Danielle, an RN, has been on long-term disability for four years. She is still employed with her nursing agency, and hopes to be back at work soon. Danielle continues to renew in the General Class — is this correct?

No. Even though Danielle has been employed as a nurse for the past four years, she has not practiced nursing. Medical leave is not evidence of nursing practice. And since Danielle hasn’t practiced in the previous three years, she has two options. She can register in the Non-Practising Class or resign her membership from CNO.

Mark, a nurse, will be starting a new position conducting research to help inform the provision of health care. His colleagues come from a variety of backgrounds and being a nurse is not a requirement of his new role. Mark wonders if this role will still be considered nursing practice.

Yes, because nursing practice is not the same as being employed as a nurse. When Mark answers CNO’s list of reflective questions, he determines that he will be using his nursing knowledge to have an indirect impact on the health care system.

If you have questions about nursing practice, you can find more information on the Declaration of Practice webpage, or contact Practice Support.
Back to Top