The aim of this study was to find out clinical nurses' perceptions of important aspects of nursing care that might have an impact on quality of care in surgical wards. A qualitative approach using focus group interviews was used. The data analysis revealed 15 categories of important aspects of care which could be condensed into two dimensions, here called 'prerequisites' (i.e., staffing, routines and attitudes) and 'elements of performance' (i.e., detecting and acting on signs and symptoms and acting on behalf of the patients). These aspects could be a starting point for developing quality indicators. Carper's four fundamental patterns of knowing were used to make a theoretical interpretation, and three of them were identified.