The clinical role of nurse lecturers has been the subject of much debate since the transfer of nurse education into Higher Education Institutions within the United Kingdom. This article provides a critical evaluation of the clinical role of nurse lecturers in terms of policy drivers and strategies for implementing national guidelines. Policies from the initiation of Project 2000, through to recent consultation documents on the support of students in practice, are evaluated. Formal aspects of the nurse lecturer remit, such as link tutor and personal supervisor roles, are discussed in terms of their impact on clinical practice. There is also a brief review of the development of the lecturer practitioner role as a bridge between education and practice. The fundamental arguments in support of nurse lecturers maintaining a clinical role in practice are analysed. This analysis includes consideration of the concept of 'clinical credibility' in terms of the impact on teaching and the closure of the theory-practice gap. The article concludes with suggestions for strategies to resolve the ongoing debate surrounding the clinical role of nurse lecturers. These recommendations include a review of staff:student ratios in nurse education, re-evaluation of the need for a clinical role, and the use of innovative recruitment and development strategies by higher education institutions. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.