Table of contents

Overview

Alberta regulates a number of health professions. These health professions are regulated by self-governing regulatory colleges under the Health Professions Act (HPA).

The HPA was developed to regulate health professions in a way that allows for non-exclusive, overlapping scopes of practice. No single profession has exclusive ownership of a specific skill or health service, and different professions may provide the same health services. For example, physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, optometrists and midwives are all authorized to prescribe drugs within the scopes of their practices.

The HPA Handbook simplifies the HPA for regulated health care professionals, employers and others. The Handbook summarizes various topics including the role of regulatory colleges, registration as a health professional, authority to provide restricted activities, use of protected titles, the complaints process, and continuing competency programs.

Read the HPA Handbook.

The HPA was recently amended to create a more effective regulatory system for health professions. While some of these amendments are currently in effect, others will become active in the future.

Governance of health professions

Under the HPA, health professions are governed by regulatory bodies called colleges. These regulatory colleges have powers and authorities for self-governance. Regulatory colleges are not post-secondary institutions.

There are 29 regulatory colleges in Alberta. Some colleges regulate a single profession, others regulate a number of professions.

The HPA requires that regulatory colleges carry out governance responsibilities in a way that protects and serves the public interest. Regulatory colleges do this by developing, maintaining and enforcing professional regulations, standards of practice and codes of ethics.

A major responsibility of regulatory colleges is to investigate complaints about regulated members and impose disciplinary sanctions if appropriate. Regulatory colleges are not the same as professional associations, whose primary role is to advance the interests of health professions.

Some regulatory colleges combine regulatory and professional association functions. For example, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta identify themselves as both a regulatory college and professional association.

Membership with a regulatory college is mandatory to provide service to the public; however, membership with an association is voluntary. Association acts in the interest of its members by representing the profession in the workforce.

Recent changes to the HPA will require regulatory colleges to no longer carry out the functions of a professional association. This change will ensure regulatory colleges always put patients and the public interest first. Regulatory colleges have started work to implement these changes.

Regulatory college councils

Councils are the governing bodies of the regulatory colleges. Their role is to manage and conduct their college’s activities on behalf of their members. Councils make professional regulations and bylaws, adopt standards of practice and codes of ethics, set registration and practice permit fees, appoint college officials, and hear reviews or appeals of registration decisions, practice permit renewal decisions and hearing decisions.

There are numerous ways to ensure public input and accountability in the governance of health professions under the HPA. One of the key provisions to support professional accountability is through public membership on college councils.

All college councils include public members to ensure the public is represented and Albertans’ views are taken into account. Public members have full voting status as members on a college council so the public has significant input into decisions of the profession.

The HPA was recently amended to increase the number of public members appointed to regulatory college councils, complaint review committees and hearing tribunals. The change gives Albertans a stronger voice and greater role in professional oversight. Effective April 1, 2021, the number of public members increased from 25% to 50% on each of these committees.

Learn about the responsibilities and other details of serving on a public agency board.

Standards of practice and codes of ethics

The HPA requires that a regulatory college must establish, maintain and enforce a code of ethics and standards of practice. These documents, which can be found on a regulatory college’s website, provide regulated health professions with a set of guidelines and principles to govern their professional behaviour and the provision of services.

If a regulated health professional’s conduct does not meet the expectations included in these documents, they may be subject to professional discipline.

Recent changes will modernize the HPA by moving common elements of professional regulations to the HPA and updating standards of practice. These changes will help enable regulatory colleges and government better respond to changes within the health system..

Complaints or concerns

Having a regulatory college in place means Albertans have a way to hold a regulated health professional accountable for care that could be deemed unacceptable or outside the scope of the profession. Albertans can go directly to a regulatory college and file a complaint. The regulatory college can then investigate a professional and determine what, if any, corrective or disciplinary action is required.

The HPA sets out the processes to be followed when handling complaints and discipline, and includes the principles of fairness, reasonableness and due process. Unprofessional conduct includes unskilled practice and professional or ethical misconduct, among other offences.

Options for addressing all complaints include informal communication and attempts to resolve conflicts, alternative complaint resolution processes, and hearings.

Recent changes to the HPA will create a centralized, public-facing online registry of regulated health professionals to help Albertans access more information or file a complaint. Work is currently underway to develop the public registry.

Restricted activities

Restricted activities are high risk activities performed as part of providing a health service that require specific competencies and skills to be carried out safely. Restricted activities are not linked to any specific health profession and a number of regulated health professionals may perform a particular restricted activity.

Health professionals who have the competencies required to perform a restricted activity safely and effectively are authorized to provide the restricted activity identified in their profession’s regulation.

For example, administering a vaccine is a restricted activity. Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, and other professions, are all authorized to administer a vaccine under their profession's regulations.

Ordering and applying ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, are both restricted activities. Various health professionals may be authorized to perform either or both, for example:

  • physicians and dentists can both order and apply X-rays
  • nurse practitioners and dental hygienists can order X-rays, but are not authorized to apply them
  • radiological technologists and dental assistants can apply X-rays, but only in response to an order
  • respiratory therapists who have completed advanced training may also be authorized to order X-rays

Psychosocial intervention interpretive guide

Some activities may be restricted under certain circumstances. For example, psychosocial interventions are restricted activities only when performed with an intention to treat the patients with specific disorders. The interpretive guide is intended to help with understanding when psychosocial intervention is a restricted activity and who can perform restricted psychosocial interventions.

For more information, read Psychosocial Interventions: An Interpretive Guide to the Restricted Activity.

Regulatory colleges

Regulated health professions authorized under the HPA – Colleges and regulation

Health professions to be regulated

The HPA has been amended so the following health professions can be regulated. Regulations must first be developed before the designated regulatory colleges starts to govern these professions.

Contact

Connect with Regulated Professions for information about regulated health professions:
Email: [email protected]

For general comments or questions, use the Contact government page.

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