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Q&As: RN Prescribing

The following are answers to questions you may have about the work the College is doing to enable RNs to prescribe certain medications and communicate diagnoses for purposes of prescribing.

We will be updating this page as more information becomes available. Please check back often.

Why is the College working on RN prescribing?

The Ontario government recently made changes to Ontario law (the Nursing Act, 1991) that will permit registered nurses to prescribe certain medications and communicate diagnoses for purposes of prescribing. RNs do not have the authority to perform either of these activities until the College creates regulations and they are approved by the College's Council and the Ontario government.

To protect the public, the College is accountable for safely implementing this change to RN scope of practice. Council will discuss RN prescribing at each of its meetings for the foreseeable future. For more information, visit the Trending Topics page: Journey to RN prescribing.  

If the new authority also includes “communicating a diagnosis” why do College materials focus on prescribing?

“RN prescribing” is the terminology that is best understood by the public and other stakeholders. The College’s work on RN prescribing will include the regulatory mechanisms needed for an RN to safely prescribe medication and communicate a diagnosis for the purpose of prescribing.

Will all RNs be authorized to prescribe medication?

Not all RNs in Ontario will be authorized to prescribe medications. For example, RNs working in hospital settings will not be permitted to prescribe medication because the laws governing Ontario hospitals do not permit RNs to order treatments for hospital patients (includes in-patients and out-patients).

Otherwise, the sectors in which RN prescribing can be implemented are broad and include long-term care and retirement homes, and community settings.

RNs are encouraged to check with their employers about the laws and policies governing their practice setting.

RNs will be expected to meet College requirements to become qualified to prescribe medication. We have not yet developed those requirements – keep an eye on the Journey to Prescribing page for updates.

I am an RN and do not want to prescribe medication. I have heard that if I do not complete College requirements for prescribing medication, restrictions will be added to my certificate of registration on the public Register.

To date, there have been no College discussions or decisions about what, if any, information may appear on the public register.

In the coming months, we will consult the public, nurses and other stakeholders about prospective requirements associated with this new scope of practice as RN prescribing will be discussed by Council of the College of Nurses of Ontario at each of its meetings for the foreseeable future.  For more information, visit the Trending Topics page: Journey to RN prescribing.

Will RNs be authorized to prescribe controlled substances?

No. Controlled substances are high-risk medications and are governed by federal laws, which do not permit RNs to prescribe these medications.

A controlled substance is one that is included in Schedule I, II, III, IV or V of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Controlled substances are used in healthcare to treat a wide variety of conditions including, but not limited to, pain, anxiety, epilepsy and sleep disorders. They include opioids, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, sedatives, anti-emetics and hormonal therapies, among others. Controlled substances are restricted because they present a high risk for potential misuse, addiction and diversion. 

The College, in consultation with stakeholders and with government approval, will determine the types of medication that RNs will be authorized to prescribe.

Page last reviewed September 20, 2017