Aims: The purpose of this study was to describe the demographic and employment characteristics of Australian practice nurses and explore the relationship between these characteristics and the nurses' role.
Background: Nursing in general practice is an integral component of primary care and chronic disease management in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but in Australia it is an emerging specialty and there is limited data on the workforce and role.
Design: National postal survey embedded in a sequential mixed method design.
Methods: 284 practice nurses completed a postal survey during 2003-2004. Descriptive statistics and factor analysis were utilized to analyse the data.
Results: Most participants were female (99%), Registered Nurses (86%), employed part-time in a group practice, with a mean age of 45.8 years, and had a hospital nursing certificate as their highest qualification (63%). The tasks currently undertaken by participants and those requiring further education were inversely related (R2 = -0.779). Conversely, tasks perceived to be appropriate for a practice nurse and those currently undertaken by participants were positively related (R2 = 0.8996). There was a mismatch between the number of participants who perceived that a particular task was appropriate and those who undertook the task. This disparity was not completely explained by demographic or employment characteristics. Extrinsic factors such as legal and funding issues, lack of space and general practitioner attitudes were identified as barriers to role expansion.
Conclusion: Practice nurses are a clinically experienced workforce whose skills are not optimally harnessed to improve the care of the growing number of people with chronic and complex conditions. Relevance to clinical practice. Study data reveal a need to overcome the funding, regulatory and interprofessional barriers that currently constrain the practice nurse role. Expansion of the practice nurse role is clearly a useful adjunct to specialist management of chronic and complex disease, particularly within the context of contemporary policy initiatives.