Ask a lawyer: RN prescribing


Question: My sister does not have a family doctor and she has asked if I can prescribe her birth control pills. As a registered nurse, am I authorized to prescribe contraceptives to a family member or friend?

Answer: There are a number of issues to consider when determining if it is appropriate for a registered nurse (RN) to prescribe or dispense contraceptives. Assuming that the RN is authorized to prescribe in their jurisdiction, the RN must ensure that their nursing regulator authorizes them to specifically prescribe contraceptives. The practice authorizations for RNs to prescribe are often limited to geographic regions and specialized areas of health care. Therefore, the authorization from the nursing regulatory body may or may not include the ability to prescribe contraceptives depending on the circumstances.

If an RN has the authority to prescribe or dispense contraceptives, it is important to determine if it is safe to do so for a specific patient by using the clinical decision tools that their nursing regulatory body has developed for that purpose. While an analysis of whether it is appropriate to dispense or prescribe needs to be made within the framework provided by the clinical decision tool, there is no substitute for the professional judgment nurses acquire as part of the additional training they are required to do before they obtain the authorization to prescribe. In addition, RNs must ensure that they are using their knowledge, skill and judgment to assess whether the prescription or dispensation of contraceptives is appropriate in each instance.

Finally, and most importantly, nurses have a professional duty to abide by the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses. Accordingly, they need to consider their professional boundaries and ensure that the care they provide maintains an appropriate nurse-client relationship. A number of nursing regulatory bodies have adopted guidelines and practice standards that explicitly outline when it is appropriate to provide care to a family member or a friend. Providing care to a family member or a friend is usually not recommended unless no other care providers are available or the patient requires urgent care. As the prescription of contraceptives would not be considered emergency care, it is advisable to send the family member to a walk-in clinic or direct them to another primary health-care provider.

We encourage CNPS beneficiaries who have questions about legal and regulatory considerations when prescribing as a registered nurse to contact the CNPS at 1-844-4MY-CNPS (1-844-469-2677) to speak to one of our legal advisors, who are lawyers.

Published April 2018

THIS PUBLICATION IS FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY. NOTHING IN THIS PUBLICATION SHOULD BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE FROM ANY LAWYER, CONTRIBUTOR OR THE CNPS. READERS SHOULD CONSULT LEGAL COUNSEL FOR SPECIFIC ADVICE.

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