Ontario Registered Practical Nurse as a Psyche & Mental Health Specialty Versus Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN) in Western Provinces


In Ontario, nursing is a regulated profession that includes 3 classes of nurses: registered nurse (RN) general class (NP), registered nurse extended class and registered practical nurse (RPN) general class. Practical nurses in all other provinces are referred to as licenced practical nurses (LPNs).  The western provinces of BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon Territory have an additional class called registered psychiatric nurse (RPN).  Note: this is the same acronym, RPN, that refers to registered practical nurses in Ontario. We will refer to RPNs in this article to mean registered psychiatric nurses.

How do Ontario nurses train in the specialty compared to the Western province's training in psychiatric nursing?

In Ontario, all practical nurses must first complete a 2-year community college program and are regulated by the College of Nurses of Ontario as a general class registered practical nurse.  To get a specialty certificate in Mental Health Nursing RN/RPN from a community college such as Durham College, the prerequisite is current registration as a registered nurse or registered practical nurse with the College of Nurses of Ontario. There is no mandate in Ontario that they must have a certificate to work.  If a position opens requiring experience in the field and they qualify, the facility, clinic, hospital or company makes the choice to hire them.

https://durhamcollege.ca/academic-schools/centre-for-professional-and-part-time- learning/programs-and-courses/programs/program?dept=DIPL&prog=MHN

Algonquin College offers a certificate program in Addictions and Mental Health which is not limited to nurses only.  Prerequisites include an Ontario College Diploma/Advanced Diploma, Degree or equivalent in the human, health, or social sciences fields. See other colleges such as Mohawk, Georgian, St Lawrence, Humber etc. for other Mental Health Nursing programs.

Another manner to expand your professional development and networking opportunities for nurses in the mental health specialty in Ontario can include becoming a member in the MHSIG who advocate for continuing education, workshops and certification of Ontario RPNs working in the mental health field.  Dual membership in IBSIG has business resources for nurses working in independent practice in the specialty of mental health.

The Canadian Nurses Association (C.N.A.) offers certification in mental health/psychiatry which is a nationally recognized credential.  The exam was developed for registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and nurse practitioners - See more at: https://www.cna-aiic.ca/en/certification/get-certified/certification-nursing-practice-specialties

Regulated Nursing in Canada – (PDF Document)


In the western provinces All but one of the RPN programs are baccalaureate now, leading to BScPN.  Many practices in mental, emotional, cognitive and substance use of course, however, many in Emerg, Gerontology and other areas of nursing. The courses are similar to BScN and these skills are transferrable.

Ontario regulates all nurses under the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO).  RPNs in the West are regulated by their own separate college from general class nurses. Once trained, graduate psychiatric nurses are registered with and regulated by their own RPN college.  In Alberta, RPNs can now become authorized to prescribe medications and order diagnostic tests.  This is outside the scope of registered practical nurses in Ontario.


The CNO has no plans to regulate psychiatric nursing, so for nurses trained as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse wishing to register with the CNO and work in Ontario, they will have to complete a nursing program that prepares them for practice as a registered nurse or registered practical nurse. 

This is because psychiatric nursing is recognized and regulated as a separate profession (RPN) in the western provinces and training in a psychiatric nursing program is recognized only for practice as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse in those provinces, not as an RN or RPN practical nurse in Ontario.


Frequently asked questions

What Do Psychiatric Nurses Do?

Psychiatric nurses provide care to people who are experiencing anxiety, mood, or psychotic disorders, as well as individuals who are facing addictions, substance abuse, or Alzheimer's or other dementias. Your responsibilities as a psychiatric nurse could vary based on several factors, including your level of education, prior experience, and work setting. But here are some of the tasks that you might carry out:

  • Interview and assess new patients
  • Develop, evaluate & update treatment plans as needed
  • Offer counselling services to patients and their families
  • Give medications
  • Administer psychotherapy
  • Lead recreational and therapeutic activities
  • Provide crisis intervention
  • Liaise with other members of a care team, including psychiatrists and pharmacists
  • Act as an advocate for their patients and families
  • Direct patients and their families to appropriate community, provincial, and federal support services

Where do Do Psychiatric Nurses work?

The most common employment settings for psychiatric nurses are:

  • Hospitals
  • Mental health and addiction facilities
  • Community health centres
  • Nursing and long-term care homes
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Schools
  • Correctional facilities

What Is the Average Mental Health Nurse Salary?

Overall, mental health nurses can expect to earn good wages. Earnings can range from $23.36 to $46.70 per hour and higher across the country, according to the Government of Canada's Job Bank. The national median was $37.60 an hour during a survey period from 2017 to 2018. However, you might experience quite a variance in earnings depending on the region and province in which you work.

What Is the Job Outlook for Mental Health Nurses?

Mental Health Nursing Specialty: A Low Unemployment Rate…

“Due to a growing number of nurses reaching retirement age and an increased demand for health services, it is expected that there will be a shortfall of 13,200 full-time nurses in Canada by 2026, according to Job Bank stats. And because of this demand for nurses, they experience a low unemployment rate. Canadian Federation of Nurses Union (CFNU) numbers show that the occupational group that includes psychiatric nurses reported an unemployment rate of only 0.6 percent in 2014, compared to the national average of 6.9 percent for all occupations.”


Job Bank stats show that the job outlook for mental health nurses in Canada is encouraging. Every province and territory is predicting a strong outlook with the exception of Saskatchewan, Newfoundland/Labrador and Ontario, which project fair job growth. One of the biggest factors driving this positive outlook is the fact that psychiatric nurses are currently retiring at a faster rate than students are graduating.

Researched & created by, R. GUPTA, VMBC; J. Strong, RPN, Public Relations IBSIG & C. Arnott, RPN, President IBSIG