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Keywords:

  • clinical practice;
  • education;
  • nursing;
  • prescribing;
  • professional development

Aims.  This paper reports a study to elicit background data from recently qualified nurse prescribers and explore aspects of their work.

Background.  Nurse prescribing has been introduced quite recently in the United Kingdom. Although a certain amount of information is available about the characteristics of nurse prescribers, relatively little is known about their professional backgrounds, their reasons for choosing to become nurse prescribers and their perceptions of their emerging role. More information is needed to inform the selection, education and support of nurse prescribers.

Method.  All nurses who undertook a nurse prescribing course in one university in the West Midlands during 2003–2004 were invited to participate in the study. A 40-item questionnaire was used to gather data on demographics, expectations of nurse prescribing, personal and professional development and perceived education needs.

Findings.  Respondents considered that, despite initial problems, the nurse prescribing initiative would ultimately prove to be a cornerstone of improved service delivery for service users. The majority of nurses were already heavily involved in prescribing ‘by proxy’ and the course merely formalized what they were currently doing. Potentially, prescribing could advance the professional development of nurses, improve communication between professionals and patients, and make the experience of patients more beneficial. However, some concerns were expressed about how supportive the current climate in health care could be, given the multiple demands on time and energy required by so many other innovations.

Conclusions.  Respondents appeared balanced in their perceptions of this innovation and what it could realistically achieve. They were not indifferent to the many short and long-term problems that need to be resolved before it can be claimed to have become embedded in practice. The success of non-medical prescribing may depend on organizational support, coupled with a robust continuing professional development strategy for all nurse prescribers.