The past 10 years have seen a shift in the master's level preparation of nurses. The majority of nurses currently seeking advanced preparation choose clinical specialization as the functional area rather than teaching. Such a shift in focus reflects the ever increasing specialization of services associated with an ever-growing complex society. Although the shift in focus of preparation and the concomitant change in curriculum design have been documented, few scientific investigations have been conducted on the graduates from master's programmes.

Of those studies that have been conducted, the majority have focused on the differential personal characteristics of graduate nursing students in different types of programmes. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relationship between a nurse's area of functional preparation in a master's degree programme and the individual's level of professionalism. The independent variable of the study was functional area of preparation in a master's programme. The dependent variables became enrolment in a formal programme of study, subscription to professional journals, attendance at non-formal educational programmes, number of authored publications, membership in professional organizations and employment in prepared area, as these seemed to reflect the criteria of professionalism explicated by Flexner (1915).

The data for the study were gleaned from questionnaires sent to the 637 individuals who had graduated from the programme. Of the 395 questionnaires that were returned, only 272 were usable. This number represented 43% of the graduate population.

The chi-square test was used to analyse the data. Each of the chi-square values for association between professionalism and graduate specialty was found to be significant. Postgraduates prepared as teachers met Flexner's criteria more often than did postgraduates prepared as clinical specialists.