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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Marking out the clinical expert/clinical leader/clinical scholar: perspectives from nurses in the clinical arena

Judy Mannix1*, Lesley Wilkes2 and Debra Jackson3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW 2751, Australia

2 Family and Community Health Research Group (FaCH), School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney and Conjoint Appointment with Nepean Blue Mountains, Local Health District, Sydney, Australia

3 Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia

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

Published: 15 April 2013



Clinical scholarship has been conceptualised and theorised in the nursing literature for over 30 years but no research has captured nurses’ clinicians’ views on how it differs or is the same as clinical expertise and clinical leadership. The aim of this study was to determine clinical nurses’ understanding of the differences and similarities between the clinical expert, clinical leader and clinical scholar.


A descriptive interpretative qualitative approach using semi-structured interviews with 18 practising nurses from Australia, Canada and England. The audio-taped interviews were transcribed and the text coded for emerging themes. The themes were sorted into categories of clinical expert, clinical leader and clinical scholarship as described by the participants. These themes were then compared and contrasted and the essential elements that characterise the nursing roles of the clinical expert, clinical leader and clinical scholar were identified.


Clinical experts were seen as linking knowledge to practice with some displaying clinical leadership and scholarship. Clinical leadership is seen as a positional construct with a management emphasis. For the clinical scholar they linked theory and practice and encouraged research and dissemination of knowledge.


There are distinct markers for the roles of clinical expert, clinical leader and clinical scholar. Nurses working in one or more of these roles need to work together to improve patient care. An ‘ideal nurse’ may be a blending of all three constructs. As nursing is a practice discipline its scholarship should be predominantly based on clinical scholarship. Nurses need to be encouraged to go beyond their roles as clinical leaders and experts to use their position to challenge and change through the propagation of knowledge to their community.

Clinical scholarship; Leadership; Nursing