In order to investigate the psychodynamic concepts of ‘reparation’ and ‘compulsive caring’ as possible motivations for a career in nursing, a questionnaire was given to two groups of respondents, 115 nursing students 97 people not involved in any of the helping professions. Both groups were asked whether or not they had experienced specific, potentially distressing events and circumstances in their childhood and teenage years. The null hypothesis was that there would be no statistically significant differences between the two groups on frequency of affirmative responses to these questions. Chi-square tests were used to determine the differential frequency responses to 11 of the 14 questions, and statistically significant differences were identified. The nursing students had a significantly greater total number of recollected adverse experiences, and there was a significantly greater number nursing students recollecting at least one. Significance on this result was maintained when males and females were analysed separately and together, with a higher level of significance reached for males than for females. Statistically significant differences between the two groups on their response specific questions were greatest for the questions about separations from mother or main carer and about the occurrence of major difficulties not covered in other questions. There is strong evidence for a rejection of the null hypothesis, the implications of which are discussed.