• professionalization;
  • division of labour;
  • enrolled nurses;
  • nursing policy

Background.  The move to one level of qualified nurse in the United Kingdom (UK) is, in part, a consequence of professionalizing strategies. Registered nurses now undertake technical work previously performed by doctors. The role of enrolled nurses, and their career intentions, have not been considered in light of these changes, despite the fact that many still work in the National Health Service.

Aim.  This paper considers the pursuit of professionalization by nurses, illustrating the argument with findings from an empirical study of conversion to registered nurse by enrolled nurses.

Methods.  The paper is based on a secondary analysis of a large data set, originally used to explore ethnic inequalities in nursing. Data from 2968 respondents were analysed to answer a number of research questions relating to the characteristics of different groups of enrolled nurses and predictors of conversion to registered nurse. These included demographic characteristics, markers of career orientation, career progression and job satisfaction.

Study limitations.  This study used secondary analysis of data and, therefore, exploration of issues was limited, not least because the data were 10 years old. Also, the design was cross-sectional and respondents’ experiences related to different stages of the phenomenon under study and the same group was not studied over time.

Findings.  Enrolled nurses who had converted to registered nurse were more likely than those who had no intention of converting to: be male, be younger, have been nursing longer, not be working on elderly care wards, have a high career orientation, not have taken a career break, and work full-time. Most of these factors predicted likelihood to convert. Although nurses who converted to registered nurse were more likely to anticipate career progression, they were less likely to be satisfied with their work.

Conclusion.  In attempts to define rewarding nursing work, the importance of ensuring that qualified nurses continue to retain basic nursing care skills should be acknowledged. This may offer an uncomfortable view to those seeking to further the professional status of nursing.