Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

A case study of nurse practitioner role implementation in primary care: what happens when new roles are introduced?

Esther Sangster-Gormley1*, Ruth Martin-Misener2 and Fred Burge3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700, STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 2Y2, Canada

2 Dalhousie University School of Nursing, Box 15000, 5869 University Ave.Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4R2, Canada

3 Dalhousie University Dalhousie Family Medicine, AJLB 8 QEII HSC, 5909 Veteran's Memorial Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 2E2, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Nursing 2013, 12:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-12-1

Published: 23 January 2013



At the time of this study (2009) the role of the nurse practitioner was new to the province of British Columbia. The provincial government gave the responsibility for implementing the role to health authorities. Managers of health authorities, many of whom were unfamiliar with the role, were responsible for identifying the need for the NP role, determining how the NP would function, and gaining team members’ acceptance for the new role.


The purpose of the study was to explain the process of nurse practitioner role implementation as it was occurring and to identify factors that could enhance the implementation process. An explanatory, single case study with embedded units of analysis was used. The technique of explanation building was used in data analysis. Three primary health care settings in one health authority in British Columbia were purposively selected. Data sources included semi-structured interviews with participants (n=16) and key documents.


The results demonstrate the complexity of implementing a new role in settings unfamiliar with it. The findings suggest that early in the implementation process and after the nurse practitioner was hired, team members needed to clarify intentions for the role and they looked to senior health authority managers for assistance. Acceptance of the nurse practitioner was facilitated by team members’ prior knowledge of either the role or the individual nurse practitioner. Community health care providers needed to be involved in the implementation process and their acceptance developed as they gained knowledge and understanding of the role.


The findings suggest that the interconnectedness of the concepts of intention, involvement and acceptance influences the implementation process and how the nurse practitioner is able to function in the setting. Without any one of the three concepts not only is implementation difficult, but it is also challenging for the nurse practitioner to fulfill role expectations. Implications for research, policy, practice and education are discussed.

Nurse practitioner; Implementation; Role; Barriers; Facilitators; Role implementation; Primary care