Aim: This paper reports selected findings from a recent PhD study exploring how graduates from a BSc Specialist Nursing programme, with an NMC-approved Specialist Practitioner Qualification, engage in practice development during their subsequent careers.
Background: The UKCC (1998) defines specialist practice as requiring higher levels of judgement, discretion and decision-making, with leadership in clinical practice development forming a core dimension of this level of practice. However, there is little evidence in the published literature that describes or evaluates the practice development role of graduate specialist practitioners.
Methods: This study applied a modified Glaserian approach to grounded theory methods. A preliminary descriptive survey questionnaire was posted to all graduates from the programme, response rate of 45% (n=102). From these respondents, theoretical sampling decisions directed the selection of 20 participants for interview, permitting data saturation.
Results: The grounded theory generated by this study discovered a basic social process labelled 'making a difference', whereby graduate specialist practitioners are increasingly able to impact in developing patient care at a strategic level by coming to own the identity of an expert practitioner (Currie, 2006). Contextual factors strongly influence the practitioner journey, with organizational position and other people presenting enabling or blocking conditions.
Implications for nursing management: The line manager plays a crucial role in helping or hindering graduate specialist practitioners to transfer their learning to the clinical setting and become active in practice development. Recommendations to enhance managerial support for the practice development role of graduate specialist practitioners are proposed. ADDING TO CURRENT KNOWLEDGE: This work adds to currently limited knowledge of the graduate specialist practitioners' role in the leadership of clinical practice development. In addition, the findings emphasize the potential influence of the workplace environment by analyzing organizational factors in the specific context of the graduate specialist practitioner attempting to develop practice.