In this paper we discuss the issues of caring and culture in practice settings and how they affect student nurses in their endeavours to learn how to be a 'real nurse'. Drawing upon differing conceptions of 'caring' we discuss the notion as a pivotal factor in becoming a nurse. We examine the degree to which boundaries are changing, not least those in which students seem currently to define the bedrock of physical and emotional care as belonging to health care support workers whom they will merely supervise. Complicating this picture are developments in medical and nursing boundaries which may, or may not help to 'professionalise' nursing. We conclude by arguing that complex cultural norms and the negotiated order of health care need to be properly recognised by curriculum developers if, within contemporary higher education nurses are to be fit for purpose and practice.