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The core role of the nurse practitioner: practice, professionalism and clinical leadership


  • Jenny Carryer PhD, RN, FCNA, MNZM,

  • Glenn Gardner PhD, RN, FRCNA,

  • Sandra Dunn PhD, RN, FRCNA,

  • Anne Gardner MPH, PhD, RN, MRCNA

Prof. Jenny Carryer
School of Health Sciences
Massey University
Private bag
Palmerston North
New Zealand
Telephone: +64 6 350 9099


Abstract  Aim.  To draw on empirical evidence to illustrate the core role of nurse practitioners in Australia and New Zealand.

Background.  Enacted legislation provides for mutual recognition of qualifications, including nursing, between New Zealand and Australia. As the nurse practitioner role is relatively new in both countries, there is no consistency in role expectation and hence mutual recognition has not yet been applied to nurse practitioners. A study jointly commissioned by both countries’ Regulatory Boards developed information on the core role of the nurse practitioner, to develop shared competency and educational standards. Reporting on this study's process and outcomes provides insights that are relevant both locally and internationally.

Method.  This interpretive study used multiple data sources, including published and grey literature, policy documents, nurse practitioner program curricula and interviews with 15 nurse practitioners from the two countries. Data were analysed according to the appropriate standard for each data type and included both deductive and inductive methods. The data were aggregated thematically according to patterns within and across the interview and material data.

Findings.  The core role of the nurse practitioner was identified as having three components: dynamic practice, professional efficacy and clinical leadership. Nurse practitioner practice is dynamic and involves the application of high level clinical knowledge and skills in a wide range of contexts. The nurse practitioner demonstrates professional efficacy, enhanced by an extended range of autonomy that includes legislated privileges. The nurse practitioner is a clinical leader with a readiness and an obligation to advocate for their client base and their profession at the systems level of health care.

Conclusion.  A clearly articulated and research informed description of the core role of the nurse practitioner provides the basis for development of educational and practice competency standards. These research findings provide new perspectives to inform the international debate about this extended level of nursing practice.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The findings from this research have the potential to achieve a standardised approach and internationally consistent nomenclature for the nurse practitioner role.