A three-stage process is being undertaken to investigate the fundamentals of care. Stage One (reported here) involves the use of a met a-narrative review methodology to undertake a thematic analysis, categorization and synthesis of selected contents extracted from seminal texts relating to nursing practice. Stage Two will involve a search for evidence to inform the fundamentals of care and a refinement of the review method. Stage Three will extend the reviews of the elements defined as fundamentals of care. This introductory paper covers the following aspects: the conceptual basis upon which nursing care is delivered; how the fundamentals of care have been defined in the literature and in practice; an argument that physiological aspects of care, self-care elements and aspects of the environment of care are central to the conceptual refinement of the term fundamentals of care; and that efforts to systematize such information will enhance overall care delivery through improvements in patient safety and quality initiatives in health systems.