This study compares nurse and patient beliefs regarding control of health and perceptions of the amount of patient control. Data were collected from 21 nurses and 32 patients on a mixed surgical ward, using a series of self-report questionnaires. No difference was found between nurse and patient perceptions of patient control. However, nurses were found to have a significantly greater desire for control over their own health care and a significantly weaker belief in the influence of powerful others (i.e. doctors and nurses) than did patients. It is suggested that such differences in nurse and patient beliefs will have significant effects on how nurses and patients feel about the care patients receive. Implications of the findings for nursing theory and nurse education are also considered. In the light of previous research showing the stress-reducing effects of giving control to patients who want and expect it, the study calls for the development of a tool to assess the amount of control desired by each patient. This should help to ensure that nursing care is congruent with the control beliefs of the patient, rather than those of the nurse.