BACKGROUND: Comparative inter-country research which identifies similarities and differences in the work of mental health nurses in different social and political contexts is an important means of determining how changes in health care systems could lead to better outcomes for patients. OBJECTIVE: This study sought to compare aspects of the work of nurses in US and UK mental health care settings. Nurses were invited to reflect on aspects of their role including identifying the most and least satisfying elements of their work and suggesting ways in which it could be improved. METHODS AND PARTICIPANTS: A 12-item questionnaire, comprising closed and open-ended questions, based on the literature and the authors' own experiences of mental health nursing practice, was piloted and subsequently distributed to respondents in both countries. RESULTS: The US nurses tended to be more willing to accept a wider range of clients than their UK counterparts, although they had lower expectations of their clients' likelihood of recovery. Both groups of nurses felt that being part of a team and having direct contact with clients were the most satisfying aspects of their work, while administration was the least. Although both US and UK nurses utilised a variety of intervention models, it would appear that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was the favoured model for the majority of nurses. CONCLUSIONS: The implications of these findings for the work of nurses and mental health care services in the UK and US, and the purpose, nature and need for future international comparative research are discussed.