BACKGROUND: With much attention focused on nurses and the nursing profession, self-evaluation of nurses' contributions to their personal growth and the profession as a whole is needed. OBJECTIVE: To describe professional development characteristics of critical care nurses. METHODS: A descriptive, exploratory approach was used to assess the professional development characteristics of a select population of critical care nurses. A 20-item self-administered questionnaire was given to 169 participants at a regional conference of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. The survey was designed to determine the level of involvement in professional opportunities and the perception of factors that influence professional development. RESULTS: Mean age of the respondents was 39 years; 72% had at least a bachelor's degree, and 82% were certified in at least one specialty area. Seventy-three percent were members of at least one professional nursing organization; but only 31% reported active participation with meetings and activities. Fifty-two percent considered themselves mentors, yet only 14% participated in scholarly activities at a high level, and 58% had not recognized a peer for nursing contributions. Seventy-six percent reported a high level of "passion about nursing and promoting the profession." Self-motivation was the leading influential factor (72%) for fostering individual professional development. CONCLUSIONS: Critical care nurses have high levels of motivation for professional development in the areas of education, certification, and membership in professional nursing organizations. However, the level of involvement with professional nursing organizations, promotion of nursing peers, and participation in scholarly activities is less than expected.