The nursing profession places a high value on the acquisition of autonomy as a requisite for professional status. Although the literature is replete with studies that examine autonomy and nurses, methods and results often are inconsistent and inconclusive. Review of the literature reveals ambiguous or absent definitions of autonomy. Nursing commonly confuses autonomy with related concepts such as authority, accountability, power, professionalism, and independence. A concept analysis of autonomy is done using Walker and Avant's modification of Wilson's analysis procedure. This highly abstract concept emerges as a discrete, empirically definable term referring to a potential human quality in an existing state. The analysis includes antecedents, consequences, defining attributes, model and borderline cases, and empirical referents.