Aim: This study explored conceptualizations of empowerment among Irish nurses and midwives. Background: Current literature on the meaning of empowerment lacks consensus. As a result there is a likelihood that empowerment will be conceptualized differently between managers and subordinates. Method: In order to get a sense of how Irish practitioners viewed empowerment, 10 focus groups were held in locations throughout Ireland (n = 93). A national distribution of participants was obtained. Results: Twenty-one different responses emerged representing what nurses and midwives understood by the term empowerment. In relation to experiences of empowerment, six themes were found to impact on empowerment experiences. Three themes emerged as central to empowerment. One theme (education for practice) was identified as an antecedent to empowerment. Conclusion: Empowerment is a complex concept and its meaning is contextually determined. Managers play a key role in impacting on the empowerment perceptions of Irish nurses and midwives. © 2007 The Authors. Journal compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.