This study describes the basic biological and physiological knowledge and skills of graduating nurse students in Finland against the requirement of their being able to practice safely and effectively in intensive care. The study describes also their interest and willingness to work in intensive care. Measurements were based on the Basic Knowledge Assessment Tool (BKAT-5) developed by Toth in the United States. The sample consisted of 130 nursing students graduating in December 2001 and January 2002. The data were analysed statistically. The students were most knowledgeable in the areas of appropriate precautions, living will and medical calculation, followed by neurology and endocrinology. Scores were poorest for pulmonary, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular knowledge. Intensive care studies and the desire to work in intensive care correlated significantly with the respondents' basic intensive care knowledge. It is important for nursing education to concentrate on developing those areas of intensive care studies where the performance of students is weakest.