The Charter of the Royal College of Nursing commits its membership ‘to promote the science and art of nursing’. Nursing is essentially synonymous with caring. The caring role is central to nursing but shared with patients themselves, their relatives and with other health professions. It consists of acts of helping and assisting with daily living activities which may be simple or complex. Giving help may involve not only acting for or doing something for another but guiding, supporting, teaching and providing the right environment for another. The art of helping is built on a scientific basis. Knowledge of underlying scientific principles is needed as a basis of judgement for nursing action. The implications of this view of the primary role of the nurse for education, efficiency and specialization in nursing are reviewed.