A study of macro-, meso- and micro-barriers and enablers affecting extended scopes of practice: the case of rural nurse practitioners in Australia

Tony Smith*, Karen McNeil, Rebecca Mitchell, Brendan Boyle, Nola Ries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
179 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Shortages of skills needed to deliver optimal health care in rural and remote locations raises questions about using extended scopes of practice or advanced practice models in a range of health professions. The nurse practitioner (NP) model was introduced to address health service gaps; however, its sustainability has been questioned, while other extended scope of practice roles have not progressed in Australia. This study aimed to explore the experiences and perceptions of NPs and their colleagues about barriers to and enablers of extended scope of practice and consider the relevance of the findings to other health professions.

Methods: Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with primary, nurse practitioner informants, who were also invited to nominate up to two colleagues, as secondary informants. Data analysis was guided by a multi-level, socio-institutional lens of macro-, meso- and micro-perspectives.

Results: Fifteen primary informants and five colleagues were interviewed from various rural and remote locations. There was a fairly even distribution of informants across primary, aged, chronic and emergency or critical care roles. Key barriers and enablers at each level of analysis were identified. At the macro-level were legal, regulatory, and economic barriers and enablers, as well as job availability. The meso-level concerned local health service and community factors, such as attitudes and support from managers and patients. The micro-level relates to day-to-day practice. Role clarity was of considerable importance, along with embedded professional hierarchies and traditional role expectations influencing interactions with individual colleagues. Given a lack of understanding of NP scope of practice, NPs often had to expend effort promoting and advocating for their roles. 

Conclusions: For communities to benefit from extended scope of practice models of health service delivery, energy needs to be directed towards addressing legislative and regulatory barriers. To be successful, extended scope of practice roles must be promoted with managers and decision-makers, who may have limited understanding of the clinical importance. Support is also important from other members of the interprofessional health care team.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Nursing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright The Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Advanced practice
  • Health care management
  • Institutional models
  • Interprofessional teamwork
  • Role extension
  • Rural and remote


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