It is argued that the structures and processes of traditional patterns of pre-registration nurse education in the United Kingdom led to an apparent and relative desensitization of student nurses to human need The processes underpinning this apparent desensitization were those which promoted both a ‘compartmentalization’ of concepts for theory and concepts for practice in the cognitions of student nurses and their habituation to examples of poor nursing practice These processes are described and their nursing pedagogical implications are discussed It is suggested that unless clinical learning environments are deliberately manipulated to foster the construction and utilization of ‘appropriate’ action schemata, the considerable opportunities offered by the implementation of Project 2000 to improve both nursing education and nursing practice could be wasted It is further suggested that this deliberate manipulation should include nurse tutors teaching theory and practice in clinical areas if they are seriously concerned to render nursing care more intelligently responsive to human need