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To explore whether nursing students learn from each other and, if so, how, when and where this learning takes place.An interpretive ethnographic qualitative research study of a group of pre-registration nursing students (n = 15). Participant observation was the primary tool of data collection. Students gave their consent to be observed in classroom and clinical environments throughout the three years of the pre-registration programme. Data took the form of audio-taped conversations with and between students together with field notes. A thematic analysis was undertaken to reveal the student experience of peer learning.The importance of friendships to clinical learning for students was apparent in three respects: friendships and learning in clinical practice, survival skills and developing clinical skills. The students talked about their friendships being strong and enduring and enabling learning to take place. The students used their peers as a resource to pass on survival skills and help each other to learn how to be a nurse. Students also taught each other a variety of clinical skills. Traditional notions of seniority were challenged because the students appeared more concerned with what their peers had experienced.Friendships were an important aspect of peer learning for the students in this study and, more importantly, friendship fostered learning. Peer learning in clinical practice is an informal and underestimated aspect of clinical learning and is valued by students.