Registered nurses have always played an important role in the lives of Albertans. The history of these nurses, their practice and the growth of this province are closely linked, as nurses and nursing practices have continually adapted to meet the changing needs of Albertans. This is a story of innovation, strength, leadership and advocacy. CARNA and its commitment to expert caring has remained constant throughout a century of provincial change and growth thanks to the political engagement, determination and foresight of the founding members and those who followed.

The Alberta Association of Graduate Nurses (AAGN) held its first meeting on Oct. 11, 1916 with seven of its 91 members in attendance. This group, united in their goal of protecting the public from unsafe care, would grow over the next 100 years to the over 36,000 member strong CARNA we know and rely on today. The AAGN sought to ensure expert caring by setting standards of nursing education and the first registered nurse exams were held in Calgary in October of 1918. Recognizing a change in their membership as more nurses finished their studies, AAGN changed its name to the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses (AARN) in 1920. By the end of the decade they had grown to 575 members and established the five committees: Public Health, Private Duty, Nursing Education, Finance and Legislation.


District Nursing

Alberta wasn’t much more than a decade old and troubled farming in the south had brought homesteaders north. Facing harsh climate and rugged conditions, nurses courageously ventured out to meet the desperate need for health services in the most remote districts in the province. Often the only health-care providers around, nurses did everything from delivering babies to treating injuries from lumber camp accidents.

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Depression and Military

When the Second World War broke out, nurses were there - providing care to the front line. Often on the move, and short on supplies, nursing sisters embraced the challenge to apply their knowledge and think on their feet. It was a time of intense pressure and extreme conditions yet also a time of opportunity – through their role in the war, nurses were exposed to new techniques and brought the profession great respect.

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After the war, government grants and the oil boom supported a rapid expansion of hospitals and advances in technology and medical techniques helped establish the acute care health system that we know today. The polio epidemic in the mid-fifties spread a wave of fear across the province and nurses risked their health and their lives to provide patient care. Nurses were increasingly in demand and in short supply, so the AARN focused on recruitment and encouraged married nurses to return to work.

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With an overarching spirit of progress, this era saw changes to regulation and education that would shape contemporary nursing. Graduate programs were introduced, collective bargaining was established, the union was formed and mandatory registration was achieved. The role of registered nurse expanded as more areas of specialization developed in response to continued advances in technology.

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Throughout the past two decades, the role of the registered nurse has continued to adapt to serve the changing health-care needs of Albertans. A move towards primary health-care and increased collaboration among health-care professionals has helped open access to care. Continued work and significant development on nursing regulation seeks to ensure RNs are working to their full scope of practice. With an unprecedented global workforce and more men entering the field, nursing in Alberta continues to become increasingly diverse.

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