If emerging ‘trail-blazers’, such as the consultant nurse, are to be successful in developing and sustaining new ways of working then factors that support or inhibit new role developments need identification. There is a growing body of evaluative and anecdotal evidence about the experience of consultant nurses since the introduction of the role in the UK thirteen years ago.
To synthesise the evidence on the experiences of UK consultant nurses in implementing a new role in order to identify inhibitors and facilitators of role development.
This review sought qualitative and mixed methodology studies that yielded qualitative data about the phenomenon of interest, together with narrative opinion papers i.e. consultant nurses' experiences of role development.
The search in 14 databases considered studies and opinion papers published between January 1999 and April 2010 in English.
All retrieved studies and opinion papers were assessed by two independent reviewers using the standardised Joanna Briggs Institute critical appraisal tools.
Data were extracted from included papers using the standardised Joanna Briggs Institute data extraction tool.
Data synthesis used the Joanna Briggs Institute approach for meta-synthesis by meta-aggregation. Findings were synthesised into categories and categories were aggregated into synthesised findings.
On the basis of critical appraisal, no opinion papers were included in the review. A total of 11 qualitative studies were included, yielding a total of 313 findings. These were synthesised into 64 categories which were further synthesised into 11 synthesised findings about factors that facilitate and inhibit the role's implementation and development.
Drawing directly on consultant nurses' experiences, these findings add evidence to what is already known about what does and does not work in developing a consultant role. They indicate that an understanding about the role's core functions is needed, as is a supportive environment in which the consultant can fully operate.
Implications for practice
The implications for practice are derived from the results of the synthesised findings. An organisation, through its policies, practices, procedures and individuals, must support the consultant's leadership and collaborative goal directed approach to care delivery and service development. This can be achieved by allowing the consultant both autonomy and authority. The synthesised findings reinforce the need to optimise the facilitators and minimise the inhibitors of role development. They can also make a contribution to the conceptual understanding of the consultant role.
Implications for research
Further research into the experiences of consultant nurses is necessary - in particular, how nurse consultants interpret their relationships with others, negotiate resources and demonstrate the impact of their role in each of the core functions, notably the leadership function.