Background: Complex and expensive treatment options have increased the frequency and emphasis of ethical decision-making in healthcare. In order to meet these challenges effectively, we need to identify how nurses contribute the resolution of these dilemmas. Aims: To identify the values, beliefs and contextual influences that inform decision-making. To identify the contribution made by nurses in achieving the resolution of ethical dilemmas in practice. Design: An interpretive exploratory study was undertaken, 11 registered acute care nurses working in a district general hospital in England were interviewed, using semi-structured interviews. In-depth content analysis of the data was undertaken via NVivo coding and thematic identification. Participants and context: Participants were interviewed about their contribution to the resolution of ethical dilemmas within the context of working in an acute hospital ward. Participants were recruited from all settings working with patients of any age and any diagnosis. Ethical considerations: Ethical approval was obtained from the local National Research Ethics Committee. Findings: Four major themes emerged: ‘best for the patient’, ‘accountability’, ‘collaboration and conflict’ and ‘concern for others’. Moral distress was also evident in the literature and findings, with moral dissonance recognised and articulated by more experienced nurses. The relatively small, single-site sample may not account for the effects of organisational culture on the results; the findings suggested that professional relationships were key to resolving ethical dilemmas. Discussion: Nurses use their moral reasoning based on their beliefs and values when faced with ethical dilemmas. Subsequent actions are mediated though ethical decision-making frames of reference including deontology, consequentialism, the ethics of care and virtue ethics. Nurses use these in contributing to the resolution of these dilemmas. Nurses require the skills to develop and maintain professional relationships for addressing ethical dilemmas and to engage with political and organisational macro- and micro-decision-making. Conclusion: Nurses’ professional relationships are central to nurses’ contributions to the resolution of ethical dilemmas.