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The English National Board Clinical Course No 811 is a 36-week preparation for community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) Unlike health visiting or district nursing the course is not yet a mandatory prerequisite for practice and it has been estimated that, nationally, 23% of all CPNs have been awarded the certificate to date There are currently 24 course centres in England, offering 420 places annually The completion of a care study by the course student is a curriculum requirement The present study aimed to establish the characteristics of clients chosen by course students for such work whilst attending the course in an attempt to obtain a ‘proxy’ measure of the current CPN role nationally A stratified random sample of eight course centres was selected — four based in schools of nursing, and a further four located in establishments of higher education Then within each course centre a stratified random sample of students was selected, who each completed a postal questionnaire A 79% response was obtained The results are described and discussed within the context of the CPN's developing role The findings suggest that many CPNs conceptualize their role and function, to use Caplan's terminology, at the primary prevention level, and see their work as being located firmly in primary health care settings The desirability of this orientation to CPN intervention is examined, acknowledging both mental health service developments and the wider educational implications