Background. The purpose of the study was to generate knowledge, which informs the discipline of nursing as caring represents an essential human need. Despite the wealth of research discussing caring in nursing, little is related to the highly technological intensive care unit environment.Aims of the study. To explore the meaning of caring to intensive care unit nurses. To determine if the meaning of caring to these nurses has potential for altering nursing practice and to gain an insight into how caring experiences were evident to them.Design and method. The design of the study was descriptive and qualitative. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect data on the experiences of twelve nurses who were selected by purposive sampling. Data analysis involved using Colaizzi's reductive procedure.Results. Findings suggest that the nurses in the study participated in delivering holistic and humane care of the patient and their relatives. The essential structure of caring was identified as a process of competent physical and technical action imbued with affective skills.Conclusions. This study revealed caring to be synonymous with nursing. The descriptive accounts of the nurses’ experiences of caring in this study attempt to illuminate the nature of intensive care unit nursing. It legitimates, from the perspectives of these particular participants, the importance of caring. The participants described caring as a process involving feelings together with professional knowledge, competence, skill and nursing action. This involved the holistic care of the patient and relatives in meeting their individual needs.Relevance to clinical practice. This study demonstrated that the lived experience of caring reflects the humanistic nature of nursing. It confirms that to care is human and the capacity to care is affirmed and actualised in caring for the critically ill patient and their relatives.