The major concern of this study was the quality of education in the practice setting in Hong Kong. Its purposes were to gain an understanding of how local Hong Kong student nurses perceive their practice experience, and to examine the quality of student nurses' practice experience in the light of an educational paradigm. A broad qualitative approach derived from some of the philosophical perspectives of phenomenology was adopted. The target population were those student nurses studying on hospital-based pre-registration programmes in Hong Kong. The total number of informants was 16, two from each of the eight schools of nursing. The semi-structured interview method using open-ended questions was used to collect data. All the interviews were conducted in Cantonese, being transcribed into Chinese and then into English. In order to provide some validity check on the adequacy of the translated interview transcripts, back-translation was carried out. Both structural analysis (latent content analysis) and content analysis (manifest content analysis) were used to analyse the interview data. The 11 themes identified indicated that the practice experience was not an educational experience because the learning methods did not advance student nurses' intellectual development. Students were only equipped with knowledge which enabled them to act as model operators who were expected to carry out routines in an unreflective fashion. The issues of developing an effective clinical curriculum and creating a supportive clinical learning environment are discussed. It is argued that the associated problems are likely to be repeated, if not exacerbated, as baccalaureate nursing programmes are developed if the profession fails to address the issues reported in the current study. The mere transfer of nursing preparation to tertiary education cannot itself solve the problems existing in nursing education in Hong Kong.