celebrating the evolution of nursing regulation in british columbia 100 Years of Nursing Regulation 1912 - 2012


One hundred years ago, 68 nurses met in a church basement in New Westminster. Their goal was to create a strong provincial association that could convince government to enact legislation requiring nurses to be registered. How far we have come!

In 2012 we celebrate the evolution of nursing regulation in British Columbia, and what that has meant to the women and men who choose to serve the public by providing competent and ethical nursing care, as well as the generations of British Columbians who have benefited from that care.

It is a proud history.

From 1912 to 1934, the Graduate Nurses Association of British Columbia fought hard for the Registered Nurses Act that established the statutory framework for the regulation of nursing in the province. Once that was achieved, the focus turned to developing standards for nursing education to ensure students received the appropriate education to qualify as registered nurses.

In 1935, legislation was revised to improve nursing education and the Graduate Nurses Association of B.C. was renamed the Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia. For the next 45 years, initial and on-going education remained a priority, with labour relations also becoming a major part of the Association’s work. This was the era following the Second World War – a time of economic prosperity when salaries and benefits were increasing, and Canadians were turning their attention to social welfare issues such as pensions and the creation of a national health care insurance program.

By the 1970s, hospital-based nurse training programs were being replaced by diploma programs carried out by publicly-funded community colleges and universities. RNABC was given the legal authority to approve these programs that prepared individuals for nurse registration.

In the 1980s, labour relations became the responsibility of the B.C. Nurses Union, and RNABC turned its energies to elevating entry-to-practice education requirements, developing standards for nursing practice and laying the groundwork for mandatory registration.

The period from 1988 to 2005 was a time of great change and uncertainty. It began with a major accomplishment: at long last, the Nurses (Registered) Act was changed to make registration mandatory for B.C. nurses.

This was also the time when the Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs (Seaton Commission) was underway, and changes to the regulation of health professions in B.C. were expected. In preparation for these changes, RNABC adopted a regulatory framework of promoting good practice, preventing poor practice and intervening when practice is unacceptable. Continuing competence requirements for registration renewal were developed, an examination of the Professional Conduct Review Process was undertaken, and work began on implementing the nurse practitioner role.

In 2003, the registered nursing profession came under the Health Professions Act and the Nurses (Registered) and Nurse Practitioners Regulation. Two years later, on August 19, 2005, RNABC was dissolved, and the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia, empowered by the Health Professions Act to regulate the practice of registered nurses and nurse practitioners in B.C., was established.

Helen Randal, Sharley Bryce Brown and the other nurses who met in that church basement 100 years ago could not have foreseen their fledgling Graduate Nurses Association of B.C. evolving into a bargaining unit, association and regulatory body for nurses, and then into an association and a regulatory body, and finally into a regulatory body only.

However, they certainly would have recognized the need for these changes. They would have marveled at the advances in the nursing profession and rejoiced at the changes in education to achieve registration. Above all, they would have taken great pride in knowing that for 100 years, protecting the public has been the mandate of B.C.’s registered nurse regulator – as it is for all health profession colleges in the province.