This study aimed to explore the relationships between job satisfaction and organizational commitment, role conflict and ambiguity, and demographic variables associated with retention of nurses within the Chinese healthcare workforce. A hypothetical model derived from a review of research studies investigating relationships between these variables was tested in a cross-sectional questionnaire survey of all the final year nursing students in a medical university in China. Seventy-one out of the total sample of 75 final year nursing students completed the questionnaire, producing a response rate of 95%. Descriptive and inferential statistical analysis of the data revealed a positive relationship between job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and a negative relationship between job satisfaction and role conflict and ambiguity. These results largely support the hypothesised associations between variables found in research studies derived mainly from samples of Western qualified nurses. However, contrary to previous studies, the findings suggest that aspirations to work in a clinical post are associated with high job satisfaction, and degree level student nurses have relatively high job satisfaction. The main implications for nursing education and practice are that educators and clinical mentors should work collaboratively to reduce the gap between theory and practice, specifically to improve the quality of student nurses' clinical experience in China and elsewhere. Positive clinical placement experience is related to high job satisfaction, and so, potentially, to improved retention. Future studies are needed which investigate changes in job satisfaction and other related variables over time, which have student nurse samples that are sufficient to enable the predictive value of these variables on retention in the healthcare workforce to be investigated. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.