Nursing in Canada is committed to preparing all new graduates at the baccalaureate level for entry to nursing practice by the year 2000. This goal has major implications for community health nursing education and practice. Health care reform is also expected to move care out of the hospital and into the community. It was against this backdrop that the researchers mounted a study on the educational preparation needed for graduates to begin to practice community health nursing. In this paper, the knowledge, professional and personal skills, and experiences that graduates need to begin community practice are reported. The study was carried out within an action-research framework. All major groups of stakeholders involved in community health nursing throughout the study province were involved in the project. This included nurses and administrators from two public health agencies (provincial and municipal), home care nurses, home health nurses (i.e. non-governmental visiting nurses), community health centres, provincial health care and nursing consultants, and faculty from two universities. In addition to the generation of relevant research findings for use by the educational institutions, the study was initiated to set the stage for future and ongoing interactions between the researchers and community experts to implement the findings from the project. Data were collected from 118 participants by means of 27 focus groups of community nurses, administrators and educators. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and analysed using latent content analysis and constant comparison techniques. Findings indicated that qualified nurses from university programmes need a wide range of knowledge, skills and experiences to begin to practice community health nursing. Detailed accounts of these requirements are outlined and the implications for practice and education put forward.