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The concept of respect, while frequently used in nursing literature, has not been extensively defined conceptually or empirically from a nursing perspective. This paper develops a conceptual definition of respect as a phenomenon in the domain of nursing action. Respect emerges as a primary nursing ethic that serves as the basis for our attitudinal, cognitive and behavioural orientation toward people. A comparison of respect to related nursing concepts reveals that respect is a component of and antecedent to caring, presence, confirmation and humanized care. A set of operational definitions of respect is proposed for use in research, education and practice. Potential methods for measuring respect as a nursing action or attitude are discussed. Several applications of respect for nursing are addressed, including the impact of lack of respect on patient-provider interactions, consideration of respect in a cultural context, and identification of client groups for which respect may have particularly significant implications. The paper concludes with recommendations for further research, with emphasis on the meaning and implications of respect for clients.