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Nurses ‘representations of their work are defined as their cognitive ‘work spaces’, a theoretical concept derived from Newell & Simon's (1977) problem-solving model and Lewin's (1935) concept of interacting positive and negative valences Using a structural equation modelling technique, a network of positive and negative features in nurses ‘work spaces is described in patterns of response to a questionnaire eliciting nurses’ ratings of their professional opportunities and difficulties The modelling technique revealed the dominance of positive over negative features, and the overall significance of social recognition for encouraging nurses to remain in nursing Comparative analyses revealed that dominant features of work space representations did not differ for nurses from four city and country hospitals, nor in relation to positions in the nursing hierarchy The importance of understanding the perceptions of nurses is discussed in relation to changes and development in nursing as a profession