Nursing associations across Canada (except for Quebec) require nursing applicants to have an undergraduate degree in nursing to enter the field as a Registered Nurse (RN).
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario points out that the reason for this is that nurses with this level of education are best able to provide safe, ethical, cost-effective and high-quality nursing care for Canadians. Nurses need a well-rounded undergrad education plus continual professional development to adapt within a system where:
Below you’ll find out what you can learn from different nursing programs and nursing schools and the different types of education available to you. We’ve also provided an overview of some of the best undergraduate nursing schools and nursing programs in Canada.
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Nursing program education not only includes classroom learning - which is extremely important as the field has increasingly become evidence-based - but it also includes practical skills. Nursing students gain knowledge and skills in research, advocacy, and leadership, and they participate in clinical or hospital and community placements involving things like health promotion, disease prevention, and emergency and critical care.
As a nursing student, you’ll come to understand why the skills you learn are important, and you’ll look at how today’s health care challenges affect the kind of care you’re able to provide patients.
While there are numerous universities throughout Canada that offer undergraduate nursing programs (including colleges that collaborate with them), here is a selection of some top programs across the country. Programs are generally between two and four years, and most schools offer accelerated, condensed, and advanced entry options.
Each nursing program will have different admission prerequisites - varying by school and province. Most institutions require good grades in high school English, math, chemistry, and biology.
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program runs for 3 years (including summer sessions) and equips students to effectively deal with complex and contemporary nursing issues. Graduates of this program are eligible to take licensure examinations in Quebec, Canada and other countries. As the basic preparation for a nursing career, this program offers innovative courses that develop fundamental nursing expertise and skills, and introduces a variety of exciting career opportunities.
The McMaster University Baccalaureate Nursing Programs (Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program: Basic, Accelerated and Post Diploma RPN Stream) are approved by the College of Nurses of Ontario. This means current graduates from these programs are eligible to apply for registration as an RN in Ontario.
The Basic four-year stream is unique, as it emphasizes person-centered learning within a problem-based approach, uses tutorial classes, and facilitates self-directed learning. The curriculum is designed so that nursing, the humanities, and the physiological, psychological and social sciences are interrelated throughout the program.
The program also offers an accelerated 20-month stream and a post-RPN 3-year stream.
Queen’s Bachelor of Nursing Science program is a four year, full-time program. Graduates receive a Bachelor of Nursing degree and, after passing their professional certification exam, are able to practice as a Registered Nurse.
The program features small class sizes, inter-professional educational opportunities and a strong research focus, which means the curriculum reflects the most current practices.
During their time at Queen’s, nursing students will engage with physical therapy, occupational therapy, front-line health professionals, and medical students.
The U of A’s Faculty of Nursing offers undergraduate programs leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) degree. Students who complete the BScN are eligible to write the NCLEX Examination to become a Registered Nurse in Canada.
The BScN-Collaborative Program is primarily for high school graduates or those with some post-secondary education, and is designed as a 4-year full-time program.
In addition to being offered at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton, all four years can be taken at Red Deer College, Keyano College (Fort McMurray), or Grande Prairie Regional College. After the third year, students from those three locations apply to the U of A and are considered U of A students for their fourth year, but still remain at their original campus.
Students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program use the latest technology and are taught by leading academic scholars and teachers in the field with a broad range of resources. Graduates are well-equipped to offer excellent service and gain high satisfaction in nursing.
U of C’s Bachelor of Nursing program curriculum combines classroom and clinical experience. The program consists of lectures and projects in the faculty’s Clinical Simulation Learning Centre and practicum placements in community care facilities. There are three options to the Bachelor of Nursing degree:
UNB offers a four-year Bachelor of Nursing program in which undergraduate students get hands-on clinical experience in their first year. The program features:
The U of O’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a four-year nursing program offered jointly by two colleges in both official languages. The program prepares students to offer high-quality nursing care and assume leadership roles within the health care system. It provides a solid theoretical foundation to enable engagement with clients in activities that promote health, prevent illness and injury, and foster optimal recovery from or adaptation to illness or injury.
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing can be completed through:
U of T’s Faculty of Nursing has a long history of educating nurses at the baccalaureate level and is renowned internationally for its educational programs and the quality of nursing research conducted by its faculty members. Graduates of the full-time, two-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program will:
Western University’s Western-Fanshawe Collaborative Program is a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) degree that qualifies graduates to apply for registration as a professional nurse with the College of Nurses of Ontario. The program is designed for students applying directly from secondary school, or for mature applicants looking to develop the skills and knowledge to begin a career as an RN.
However, there’s also the Compressed Time Frame (CTF) program, which is a 19-month course geared toward students who already hold a university degree, or who have completed at least two years of university, and have completed specific prerequisite courses.
Many Canadian nursing programs offer distance education where you can study from home or travel to a nearby “host” university. For instance, through Laurentian University’s BScN program, RNs from Ontario and Quebec can take courses at the Barrie, Orillia, North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Oshawa, Owen Sound, St. Catharines, Toronto, Muskoka/Parry Sound, Kitchener/Guelph, Simcoe, Kirkland Lake/Englehart/Haileybury, Attawapiskat and Sudbury campuses.
If you already have a degree, you may be eligible for an accelerated/post-baccalaureate nursing program, of which some are offered part-time. These programs can qualify you as a nurse within two years. Examples include McMaster University’s Baccalaureate Nursing Program Accelerated Stream and University of Calgary’s Bachelor of Nursing Degree Holder Program.
There are over 30 master's programs across Canada and 15 doctoral programs in nursing in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Nurses with graduate degrees become leaders in advanced or extended practice in nursing specialties, researchers, managers, or educators.
Continuing education provides professional excellence and supports labour mobility. All Canadian nursing regulatory bodies have prioritized continuing education by establishing quality assurance programs within their regulatory system.
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As a nurse in Canada it’s not only important, but required, for Canadian nurses to have an undergraduate degree in nursing to become an RN. This ensures that the safest, most ethical and high-quality care is provided to patients across the country.
No matter what program you choose, you’ll learn important practical, hands-on skills. Take your time deciding on a program and always look at their clinical requirements, and evaluate their curriculum to see if it’s the right path for you. Once you get an idea of what you'd like to study, make sure you take into consideration how much nurses make in Canada so you can plan ahead financially.
That being said, there’s no shortage of great undergraduate nursing schools and nursing programs in Canada, so evaluate the location and reach out to other nurses for specific recommendations. If you’re looking to become a nurse, at whatever life or career stage you find yourself in, there's a program out there for you.
Emma Caplan writes and edits client-facing documents and takes pride in making them sales-ready and reader-friendly. She has additional experience in quality control and proofreading. She has written articles and podcast summaries for the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, edited fiction and non-fiction books, and volunteers as a copy editor for Editors BC’s West Coast Editor and Students for High Impact Charities.
Emma has also earned a certificate in editing and a bachelor of management degree. In her free time, Emma enjoys hiking, travelling, and creating jewelry. Connect with her on LinkedIn.