Aims and objectives This paper reports an integrative review of the literature on nursing competency standards for nurses working in primary health care and, in particular, general practice. Background Internationally, there is growing emphasis on building a strong primary health care nursing workforce to meet the challenges of rising chronic and complex disease. However, there has been limited emphasis on examining the nursing workforce in this setting. Design Integrative review. Methods A comprehensive search of relevant electronic databases using keywords (e.g. 'competencies', 'competen*' and 'primary health care', 'general practice' and 'nurs*') was combined with searching of the Internet using the Google scholar search engine. Experts were approached to identify relevant grey literature. Key websites were also searched and the reference lists of retrieved sources were followed up. The search focussed on English language literature published since 2000. Results Limited published literature reports on competency standards for nurses working in general practice and primary health care. Of the literature that is available, there are differences in the reporting of how the competency standards were developed. A number of common themes were identified across the included competency standards, including clinical practice, communication, professionalism and health promotion. Many competency standards also included teamwork, education, research/evaluation, information technology and the primary health care environment. Conclusion Given the potential value of competency standards, further work is required to develop and test robust standards that can communicate the skills and knowledge required of nurses working in primary health care settings to policy makers, employers, other health professionals and consumers. Relevance to clinical practice Competency standards are important tools for communicating the role of nurses to consumers and other health professionals, as well as defining this role for employers, policy makers and educators. Understanding the content of competency standards internationally is an important step to understanding this growing workforce.