RPN Prescribing

A change to the Alberta Registered Health Professions Act, effective May 27, 2021, authorizes registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs) to prescribe common medications and order diagnostics, like x-rays and laboratory tests. Initially, the new authority for RPNs is limited to specific clinical practice areas where the employer has policies to support RPN prescribing and has a clinical support tool to clearly guide prescribing decisions.

To see if you are eligible to become an RPN prescriber, you are encouraged to check directly with the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta (CRPNA) and your employer.

The CRPNA has approved RPN Competencies for Prescribing and Ordering Diagnostic Tests, which includes completion of a nursing education course offered by Athabasca University’s Faculty of Health Disciplines.

The RPN Prescribing course is comprised of two CRPNA-approved modules that will prepare RPNs to meet the competencies for prescribing drugs and ordering diagnostic tests.

The two modules that comprise the RPN Prescribing course can be taken concurrently or sequentially:

  1. RPN Prescribing Module 1: Competencies, Requirements and Standards (online self-paced)
  2. RPN Prescribing Module 2: Knowledge-based Practice - Prescribing Medications and Ordering Diagnostic Tests (13-week online paced)


The RPN Prescribing online course was developed primarily for nurses who work in jurisdictions where RPN prescribing has been approved. This course may also be of interest and utility to RPNs in other areas who wish to learn more about prescribing and ordering diagnostic tests.

Module 1 of the RPN Prescribing course is self-paced and self-study, consisting of five units offered over 13 weeks. It addresses legal, ethical and regulatory competencies, as well as those related to client safety and professional practice responsibilities. Students may begin this module in any month of the year.

Module 2 of the RPN Prescribing course comprises 10 units offered over 13 weeks in an online, paced format. Module 2 addresses knowledge-based competencies for prescribing, including pharmacologic principles, pathophysiology, client assessment, pharmacotherapeutics, side effects and contraindications, diagnostic testing and interpretation, consultation, follow-up and referral.

Module 2 begins on the first Wednesday of May, September and January*. Students wanting to take the module after it has already started should register two months prior to the next available start date. A minimum of 10 registrants is required for the module to be offered.

See the FHD website for information about semester dates.

NOTE: Initially, these modules will both open on September 8, 2021. Registration opens in August 2021.


In order to meet the criteria for RPN prescribing established by CRPNA, RPNs must have 3,000 hours of practice as a registered nurse, 750 of which must be in the area where the RPN wishes to prescribe. Nurses from jurisdictions other than Alberta should consult their College of Nursing.

Cost and registration

Module 1 C$300 + GST (non-refundable)
Module 2 C$600 + GST (non-refundable)

You may begin Module 1 anytime prior to or concurrently with the start of Module 2.

Register online by completing and submitting the Professional Development Registration Form. Select the appropriate “ticket” (be sure to choose the RPN Modules, not the RN modules) and complete all registration information therein. You will need a valid credit card or Paypal account to register. You will then be contacted by email, usually within 2 workdays, with further instructions.

Course materials

For this course, you will need the following textbook, which is available from Amazon or through the publisher’s website:

Brent, L., Gerald, K., & Hass, V.M. (2021). Advanced Pharmacology for Prescribers. Springer Publishing Co.

All other resources are web-based or are provided within the course study guide.

Course goals

The RPN Prescribing course builds on basic foundational knowledge of pathophysiology, pharmacology and patient assessment acquired as a registered psychiatric nurse.

Successful completion of the course prepares RPNs to meet CRPNA’s requirements for prescribing drugs and ordering diagnostic tests.

A Certificate of Completion is awarded when you have successfully completed all of the course quizzes and learning activities and passed the exams.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of Module 1, you will be able to:

  • understand the scope, privileges and limitations in RPN prescribing as described in Alberta legislation
  • interpret CRPNA documents and how they reflect the law and CRPNA’s duty to protect the public on behalf of the Government of Alberta
  • understand your employer’s obligation to provide you with specific guidance with regards to prescribing and ordering tests
  • understand the limits of your own expertise and the site-specific prescribing authority, and determine when the patient/client should be referred to another health care provider
  • read and interpret an algorithm or other decision support tool
  • identify legal and professional responsibilities as they pertain to negligence, accountability, and documentation as a RPN prescriber
  • integrate nursing ethical practice within RPN prescribing and the ordering of tests
  • recognize and describe potential conflicts of interest and ethical issues in prescribing and ordering tests
  • describe and apply the principles of a therapeutic relationships with patients and collaborative practice relationships with other health care providers.
  • Describe the process of prescribing or ordering tests, including a plan of care.

Upon completion of Module 2 you will be able to:

  • understand and use the principles of pharmacology when prescribing
  • integrate diagnostic reasoning with the nursing process when prescribing medications
  • minimize risk to the patient/client using rational drug selection principles
  • individualize strategies to encourage adherence to the plan of care
  • document and provide appropriate follow-up with respect to the prescribing of medications
  • evaluate the need for testing or imaging, using critical thinking and clinical reasoning
  • understand the responsibilities associated with ordering tests of any kind
  • interpret basic tests, including liver and kidney function
  • consult with the appropriate team member in the case of abnormal test results
  • accurately document and follow-up any tests or imaging that you have ordered

Course structure

Module 1 of the RPN Prescribing course is self-paced and consists of five units which include learning activities, readings and reflective exercises. These are offered at various intervals to enhance your self-study process. Each unit contains several short quizzes designed to reinforce critical knowledge and help prepare you for the Module 1 final exam. You may take the quizzes as many times as you wish. The exam can only be taken once per registration.

Module 2 of the RPN Prescribing course consists of 10 units which run over 13 weeks. This is a paced online module offered each semester and is taken with a cohort of RNs. The instructor and class members will participate in unit conferences and in videoconferencing sessions to discuss unit content and related issues. With the exception of the videoconferencing sessions, students can complete the course work at times of their choosing. That is, there is no structured class time. Students will be expected to complete two case studies and a final exam which will have due dates.

When you finish both modules in the RPN Prescribing course, you will be invited to complete the course evaluation, which will inform future revisions. Upon completion of both modules, a notice of course completion will be sent to CRPNA by Athabasca University.

Technical requirements

To successfully complete this course, you must have ready access to a computer with reliable Internet access.

If you have questions, please email fhd-pd@athabascau.ca.