This study was conceived as an inquiry into the marginal nature of the rural family nurse practitioner's role. Data collection began with administration of a questionnaire to all family nurse practitioners in New Mexico for the purpose of selecting a subgroup for in-depth study. Eight rural family nurse practitioners were identified who were practicing as primary health care providers with a physician on-site 20% of the time or less. This group was studied over a period of 3 months. The major outcome of the study was the delineation of three highly interactive clusters of variables which appear to influence the development of a role-identity: personal attributes; organizational factors and inter-personal relations. Demographic data collected resulted in a profile indicating that the ‘average’ rural family nurse practitioner in New Mexico is a single ‘Anglo’ female between 35 and 44 years of age with a BSc in nursing and a strong religious background. Hypothetically, as agreement on role-expectations and behaviour is increased between the rural family nurse practitioner and the role-set, increased institutionalization of the role can be expected to occur.