• public health nursing;
  • primary health care;
  • nurses' experiences;
  • job satisfaction

Implementation of a ‘population responsibility’ principle in Finnish health centres began in the late 1980s. The aim of this study was to describe public health nurses’(PHNs') experiences of primary health care based on this principle and to identify contextual and personal factors related to their experiences. The sample consisted of PHNs in 10 health centres. A questionnaire was developed based on a qualitative study. The survey was conducted in 1990 and repeated in 1992. The response rate was 84% for the 1990 sample (n=102) and 91% for the 1992 sample (n=131). In the multivariate analysis of variance type of community (urban/rural), size of the target population, task division model and existence of regular teamwork between social and health care personnel were chosen as contextual factors studied. Age, length of professional experience and having specialist education in midwifery were chosen as personal factors. Dependent variables were subscales on: experiences of planning and implementation, perceived influence of population responsibility on nurse–client relationships, comparison with previous experiences, views and experiences on comprehensiveness of care and job satisfaction. The majority of the PHNs experienced only minor changes in their work after the implementation of population responsibility. They were most critical about the way these changes were planned and implemented. Changes were mainly perceived as positive. There were some differences in the two samples, reflecting a shift from both positive and negative responses towards more neutral or more positive responses. Several contextual factors were multi-dimensionally related to the PHNs' experiences.