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Keywords:

  • acute care nursing;
  • nurse practitioner;
  • scope of practice

Aims.  The aim of this paper is to report a trial to investigate the feasibility of the nurse practitioner role in local health service delivery and to provide information about the educational and legislative requirements for nurse practitioner practice.

Background.  Nurse practitioners have been shown to offer a beneficial service and fill a gap in health care provision. However, the lack of publications describing, critiquing, or defending the way that existing nurse practitioner roles have been developed may lead to a lack of clarity in comparing the nurse practitioner scope of practice internationally. In Australia, credible exploratory research is needed to realize the potential of nurse practitioners to bridge the divide of inequitable distribution of health services. A trial of nurse practitioner services in the Australian Capital Territory provided an excellent opportunity to investigate these scope and continuity issues.

Methods.  This was an observational analytic study using multiple data sources. Four models of nurse practitioner service were chosen from a competitive field of applications that were evaluated according to efficacy, feasibility, and sustainability across specified selection criteria. Each model in the trial included a clinical support team, with the nurse practitioner candidate ‘working-into-the-role’ and collecting demographic, clinical practice, patient outcome, and health service and consumer survey data over a 10 month period.

Findings.  The trial identified the broad potential of the nurse practitioner role, its breadth and limitations, and its impact on selected health services in the Australian Capital Territory. Data from individual models were compared highlighting generic elements, and formed the basis for the development of the scope of practice for the Australian Capital Territory nurse practitioner models.

Conclusions.  This study has validated a research-based, iterative process for initial development of nurse practitioner scope of practice for any Australian specialization. Importantly, the study concluded with the scope of practice as a finding, rather than commencing with it a priori. Although general areas of health care need and under-servicing were identified at the outset, the process tested both the expansion and parameters of the roles.