Nurses currently construct careers in a climate of continuing occupational and organizational change. A longitudinal project is in progress which is documenting the post-qualification histories of a cohort of registered general nurses, and studying the extent to which their careers represent occupational choice, a response to organizational constraints, or a combination of both. Three elements comprise the core of the research: questions which provide information on the cohort's career plans, charts which document their career histories and questions which explore the relationship between the two. The basis of the design is the first element, and this paper focuses on the problems encountered in designing the questions and routeing structures which enabled all cohort members to describe their plans for the future.
The importance of extensive pilot work is demonstrated in the development of options tailored for each potential career pathway and to allow expressions of uncertainty to emerge at points when appropriate to respondents. Of the 1164 members of the cohort, 1015 returned the questionnaire; a response rate of 87%. Findings are presented on the cohort's plans at qualification. The majority of respondents (86%) saw themselves as remaining in nursing and in clinical practice in the early post-qualification period. Eighteen per cent said they intended to practise abroad at some point, 30% foresaw a likelihood of working in the private sector, 59% wanted to take one or more English National Board courses and 42% expressed interest in obtaining an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.