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This paper presents qualitative findings from a study that explored nursing students' experience of belongingness when undertaking clinical placements. The aim is to locate the professional and practical implications of the research within an Ascent to Competence conceptual framework.The need to belong exerts a powerful influence on cognitive processes, emotional patterns, behavioural responses, health and well-being and failure to satisfy this need can have devastating consequences. The literature suggests that diminished belongingness may impede students' motivation for learning and influence the degree to which they are willing to conform rather than adopt a questioning approach to clinical practice.A mixed methods, cross national, multi-site case study approach was adopted with third-year preregistration nursing students from three universities (two in Australia and one in England) participating; 362 in the quantitative phase and 18 in the qualitative phase.Qualitative findings demonstrated that, although the primary purpose of clinical education is to facilitate students' progress towards the attainment of competence, the realisation of this goal is impacted by a wide range of individual, interpersonal, contextual and organisational factors which can be conceptualised hierarchically. By this structuring it is possible to see how belongingness is a crucial precursor to students' learning and success.The framework demonstrates that students progress to a stage where attainment of competence is possible only after their previous needs for safety and security, belongingness, healthy self-concept and learning have been met.The future of the nursing profession depends upon the development of confident, competent professionals with a healthy self-concept and a commitment to patient-centred care and self-directed learning. This paper demonstrates that the realisation of this goal is strongly influenced by the extent to which students' clinical placement experiences promote and enhance their sense of belonging.