Aim The aim of this paper was to explore the concept of expertise in nursing from the perspective of how it relates to current driving forces in health care in which it discusses the potential barriers to acceptance of nursing expertise in a climate in which quantification of value and cost containment run high on agendas. Background Expert nursing practice can be argued to be central to high quality, holistic, individualized patient care. However, changes in government policy which have led to the inception of comprehensive guidelines or protocols of care are in danger of relegating the ‘expert nurse’ to being an icon of the past. Indeed, it could be argued that expert nurses are an expensive commodity within the nursing workforce. Consequently, with this change to the use of clinical guidelines, it calls into question how expert nursing practice will develop within this framework of care. Method The article critically reviews the evidence related to the role of the Expert Nurse in an attempt to identify the key concepts and ideas, and how the inception of care protocols has implications for their role. Conclusion Nursing expertise which focuses on the provision of individualized, holistic care and is based largely on intuitive decision making cannot, should not be reduced to being articulated in positivist terms. However, the dominant power and decision-making focus in health care means that nurses must be confident in articulating the value of a concept which may be outside the scope of knowledge of those with whom they are debating. Relevance to clinical practice The principles of abduction or fuzzy logic may be useful in assisting nurses to explain in terms which others can comprehend, the value of nursing expertise.