This case study was undertaken at a college of nursing in Northern Ireland with its first cohort of Project 2000 student nurses The aim was to investigate perceived stress on the course A qualitative approach was adopted utilizing Cox's (1991) transactional model of stress as the guiding theoretical framework Data were collected through questionnaires and in-depth semi-structured interviews and analysed using a grounded theory methodology Findings reveal that stress is perceived in relation to non-integration with tertiary education and non-integration with the ward team This stress results from a tension between dependence and the quest for independence in the pursuit of academic freedom and clinical competence The dependence/independence continuum has been identified as the core variable underpinning student-reported stress Valuable insights have been gained in relation to how student nurses perceive and cope with stress associated with the introduction of the new Project 20000 curriculum, especially at this time of flux in nurse education It is concluded that student stress could be minimized if tutors acknowledged its presence and reflected the course philosophy in their practice Better liaison between the college and clinical areas may resolve some of the ward staff's negative attitudes and misunderstanding of the course aims Finally, students have a need to develop clinical skills much earlier in the course than at present, in order to feel valued, to contribute to patient care and to integrate with the ward team