The Australian healthcare system is undergoing changes that are impacting tangibly on professional nursing practice. While the evidence is clear that the changes pose a challenge to maintaining standards amidst resource cuts and restructuring, the processes through which these changes occur and the decisions which drive the reforms remain complex and largely obscure. This paper intends to stimulate further thinking and debate among nurses about the effects of these reforms on the conduct of practice, both in terms of our emerging discipline and our ability to conduct clinical nursing practice. It offers a way of understanding the policy 'reform' process through an application of policy analysis grounded in critical social theory. The discussion sets out to apply these analytical propositions to specific events that constitute examples of change in the nursing workplace, and to focus on the implications for nurses and health service clientele.