The primary aim of this project was to explore the effects of experiential learning in pre-hospital emergency care by nursing students on placement with the Northern ireland Ambulance Service. The literature suggests that experiential teaming has great potential for expanding understanding, knowledge and skills. The study employed a qualitative approach that was inductive, exploratory and descriptive, using diaries and focus group interviews to collect data. One hundred and forty-one nursing students participated, providing a response rate of 74%. Content analysis indicated that the concept of holistic nursing comes to the fore in students' thinking and deliberations in pre-hospital emergency care. An appreciation of the skills and abilities of paramedics has created the foundation for enhanced inter-professional collaboration in this setting. In conclusion, experiential learning stimulates the evolvement of an understanding of the complete process of care, from the receiving of the emergency call by ambulance control to the patient's discharge. The study recommends that such an experiential learning placement in pre-hospital emergency care is made a compulsory part of preregistration education for nurses. (C) 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.