This paper describes a research study designed to explore the knowledge, perceptions and attitudes of practising critical care nurses towards caring for ‘brain stem dead’ cadaver organ donors and their families The influence of formal nurse education and experiential learning were investigated together with what nurses felt could better prepare them for this role Data were collected through self-completion questionnaires from 103 critical care nurses This was instrumental in forming a semi-structured interview schedule whereby seven respondents were interviewed The findings of the study suggest that nurses are very favourable towards organ donation and this correlated with their knowledge of brain stem death (P<0 024) Nurses with between 6 and 10 years critical care experience had a significantly higher knowledge base (P<0 05) than those of less or greater experience Nevertheless, when challenged some nurses were less comfortable with the concept of brain stem death and caring for these patients A degree of cognitive dissonance was identified Discussion revealed that all nurses need to have a better understanding of their role in organ donation, no matter what nursing discipline they practice This may help to expel some of the myths that have, undeservedly, become established and given the donor process a rather sinister image