Nurses' perceptions of their role are influenced by societal attitudes, government policies and trends in professional issues. Dynamic factors in contemporary health environments challenge traditional nursing roles, in particular those of community nurses. Role theory is a conceptual framework that defines how individuals behave in social situations and how these behaviours are perceived by external observers. This paper reviews the role theory literature as a conceptual framework to explore community nurses' perceptions of their role. Three theoretical perspectives of role theory have emerged from the literature review: 1. social structuralism; 2. symbolic interactionism; and 3. the dramaturgical perspective. These philosophical perspectives provide a useful framework to investigate the role of community nurses in the contemporary health care system.