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This paper explores the notion that nursing education is a political process which reproduces traditional practices There is evidence to suggest that dominant ideologies, embedded in the social processes of education and health care, shape the consciousness of nurse teachers and students towards conformity and compliance with established practices in hegemonic institutions Traditional practices or ‘common sense’ reinforces the structural arrangements which contribute to the contradictions that students experience between knowledge they are ‘given’ in the classroom and knowledge they derive from their clinical learning experiences It is clinical placements which bring students face to face with their position in the established hierarchy of knowledge, professional relationships and routinized practices In this sense students may experience their classroom education as a denial of their lived experience in clinical settings They may learn to negotiate among the different meanings and explanations they encounter and learn to act in ways that are personally and professionally ‘safe', thereby reproducing traditional nursing culture Project 2000 in Great Britain and the calls for a ‘curriculum revolution’ from North America promise transformation of traditional practice But it is the political processes of teaching and learning and their practical effects which must be revealed for critique and transformation if professional ideals of reflective practice, emancipatory knowledge and professional autonomy are to play an integral part in transforming professional nursing practice within hegemonic institutions