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To use systematic methods to examine how resilience is defined in empirical research.Resilience is a term that is increasingly being used to describe and explain the complexities of individual and group responses to traumatic and challenging situations. It is now frequently mentioned in relation to many areas of nursing practice, including research. Given the increasing use of the term, it is timely to examine how resilience has been defined in empirical research.An integrative review of the empirical literature (2000–2015).Three health-related databases were searched: Medline, PsycINFO and the Cumulative Index for Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL). Reference and citation tracking was performed on all articles included in the review.The methods described by Whittemore and Knafl were used to guide this review. Two reviewers were involved in screening articles for inclusion and in the data extraction process. Data were synthesized using the constant comparative method of analysis.One hundred articles were included in the final data analysis. The most significant finding of the review was that there is no universal definition of resilience. There were, however, some common themes identified: rising above, adaptation and adjustment, dynamic process, ‘ordinary magic’ and mental illness as a marker of resilience.Despite the increasing use of the term ‘resilience’, this review has identified that there is no universal definition of resilience adopted in the research literature. Further research is required to explore this construct in the context of nursing.