This paper explores ideas about the appropriate basis for nurse–patient relationships which underwrite the nursing practice of experienced staff nurses on the acute surgical and medical wards of a Scottish general hospital Three central features of involvement with patients are identified, knowledge, reciprocity and investment, and these are related to three general models of the nurse–patient relationship, characterized as primary, demonstrative and associational The implications of the nursing practice on which these models are based are discussed in the context of issues of quality of care and orientation to work