Canada names new chief nursing officer, reinstating role to advise on health crisis


As strains in the health-care system continue to be felt across the country, the federal government has named Leigh Chapman as Canada’s chief nursing officer (CNO). Chapman’s role will be to represent nurses at the federal level, and to provide strategic advice from a nursing perspective to Health Canada as it faces calls to do more to stem the crisis.

“Many health-care professionals, including nurses, are currently facing enormous challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic… In fact, there are already a number of jurisdictions in Canada reporting nursing shortages, which is having an impact on the functioning of emergency rooms and other critical health services that Canadians need and deserve,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in unveiling Chapman as the pick for the position.

“With this growing crisis, we need to support our nurses, make sure they are heard and that their challenges are met with solutions. We need the right advice and expertise to inform our path forward,” Duclos said on Tuesday. “We all look forward to learning from Dr. Chapman’s extensive experience and insight… I am very confident that she will increase the visibility, the input and the influence of Canada’s nurses at the national level.”

Chapman— a registered nurse (RN) with nearly 20 years of experience and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Nursing – will be filling a role the Liberals vowed to reinstate earlier this year.

She will participate in the development of broad health system policy, work with regulatory bodies and educators, play a convening role with provincial and territorial governments, and represent the federal government at public health forums within Canada and abroad, Duclos said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Chapman said she’s looking forward to taking on this role, and is vowing to collaborate with frontline nurses, regulators, and educators on strengthening the profession and amplifying the difference she said she’s seen nurses make in patients’ lives.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult time over the course of the pandemic. We’ve had nurses doing end of life care by iPad, working critically short beyond what was ever imaginable. So first and foremost, my message is a message of thanks for those who have worked in various capacities over the course of the pandemic,” Chapman said. “I really, really do hope that nurses who are in the profession find resources to stay, and I hope that we can make the workplace amenable to that as well. Because we absolutely need all hands on deck.”

Among the issues she’ll be advising on are workforce planning, long-term care, palliative care, mental health care, and substance use. The appointment is for a two-year term, with the potential to be extended.

In February, when Duclos announced the federal government would be reinstating the position scrapped in 2012, he noted the role nurses— the largest group of regulated health professionals in Canada—played during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move was applauded by nursing organizations, who had been pushing for the position to be revived.

“The CNO will strengthen Canada’s health system by providing strategic policy advice from a nursing lens to Health Canada. It will also be essential in supporting a national response to the significant shortages in health human resources that exist across the country, and in stabilizing the nursing workforce beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the Canadian Nurses Association in a statement at the time.

Canada’s first chief nursing officer was appointed in 1968, and in 1999 the Office of Nursing Policy was created within the Strategic Policy Branch of Health Canada.

The decision to drop the position a decade ago was due to “realigning resources across priorities,” according to the government.

“However, in this current environment, the CNO is viewed as an important role and has been resourced accordingly,” the government said in a statement on Tuesday.

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