• systematic review;
  • qualitative meta-synthesis;
  • qualitative studies;
  • nursing role;
  • advanced nursing practice;
  • nursing research

Aims.  This paper reports a study whose aim was to identify and synthesize qualitative research studies reporting barriers or facilitators to role development and/or effective practice in specialist and advanced nursing roles in acute hospital settings.

Background.  The number of clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, advanced nurse practitioner and consultant nurse roles has grown substantially in recent years. Research has shown that nurses working in innovative roles encounter a range of barriers and facilitators to effective practice.

Methods.  Systematic literature searches were undertaken, and relevant studies identified using specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. The selected studies were appraised, and their findings synthesized using Ritchie and Spencer's ‘Framework’ approach.

Results.  Fourteen relevant studies were identified, mostly from the UK. They described a range of barriers and facilitators affecting specialist and advanced nursing practice. These related to the practitioner's personal characteristics and previous experience, professional and educational issues, managerial and organizational issues, relationships with other health care professionals, and resources. The factors most widely identified as important were relationships with other key personnel, and role definitions and expectations.

Conclusions.  Relationships with other staff groups and role ambiguity are the most important factors which hinder or facilitate the implementation of specialist and advanced nursing roles. These factors seem interlinked, and the associated problems do not appear to resolve spontaneously when staff become familiar with the new roles. In order to reduce role ambiguity and the consequent likelihood of negative responses we recommend that, when specialist and advanced nursing roles are introduced, clear role definitions and objectives are developed and communicated to relevant staff groups; these definitions and objectives should be updated as necessary.