This paper describes the use of the Delphi survey technique to develop a professional definition of nursing which is used as a framework for analysing the contribution made to care by learner nurses prior to the introduction of Project 2000. A detailed account is provided of the importance of generating a theoretical nursing perspective to structure the first round of the Delphi survey. The paper goes on to question the validity of developing a consensus about nursing priorities in subsequent rounds of the Delphi survey and argues instead that priorities about nursing care needs can only be determined in the context of practice.