This descriptive study was undertaken to investigate patients’ perceptions of the seven content areas commonly included in cardiac teaching in terms of how important and how realistic they were for being learned following the experience of an acute myocardial infarction (MI) Lazarus's stress-coping theory was used as a framework for the study A sample of 30 MI subjects were interviewed before discharge and during early convalescence Before discharge, subjects rated six out of the seven content areas as ‘important’ for learning Although the information was considered important, it was not rated as equally realistic to learn During early convalescence, mean scores under ‘important to learn’ were slightly lower, but all seven content areas were rated as significantly more realistic to be learned (P < 0 05) Little variation in patients’ perceptions of the importance of teaching content was noted over time However, there was major variation between their perceptions of how important and how realistic it was to learn the material before discharge Both dimensions, how important and how realistic, are therefore crucial to consider in cardiac teaching