The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of the nature of empathy, as perceived and experienced by registered nurses. A phenomenological approach was selected, with nine experienced staff nurses working in surgical settings being interviewed using an open, unstructured approach. Empathy was evidently felt to be beneficial, displayed both nonverbally and through the nurse's actions, and therefore the ability to empathize, and to feel empathy with the individual patient, needs supporting and promoting in nurses. The importance of learning from experience (both personal and professional), and the ability to communicate effectively, are both highlighted by this study. The nature of empathy is evidently multi-faceted, and the presence of empathy is influenced by a complex relationship between the individual nurse, patient and the environment. It should be recognized that environmental issues, such as high workload and stress, also affect ability to empathize.