BACKGROUND: Although the number of studies on research utilization is steadily growing, there are only a few specialty-specific studies. AIMS: This study focuses on medical and surgical nurses. It compares their reported use of research utilization and their perceptions of barriers and obstacles. METHODS: A convenient sample of 210 medical nurses and 269 surgical nurses, from 10 general hospitals in 14 Trusts in Northern Ireland (NI), was surveyed. RESULTS: The results showed that the reported extent of research utilization was high, with less than 10% in each group reporting never/seldom using research. The reported difference between the medical and surgical nurses was very small, with medical nurses reporting a slightly higher rate of utilization. However, this was not statistically significant at 5% level. CONCLUSIONS: The Barriers Scale (Funk et al. 1991a) used in this study to assess their perceptions of barriers and facilitators revealed a similar picture for both groups. The top two barriers were "Management will not allow implementation" and "The nurse does not feel she/he has enough authority to change patient care procedures". These findings, as well as the need to take research utilization studies further, are discussed.