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To identify instructive messages to guide nursing practice in future epidemics by examining the stories of Chinese nurses who cared for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) patients.Mainland China had three outbreaks of SARS between November 2002–May 2004 and suffered the greatest impact on morbidity and mortality worldwide. Most of the nursing-related literature about SARS has been reported from other countries. Researchers expect that global infections, like SARS, will persist and escalate in the future. It is important to access the guidance from nurses who cared for SARS patients in China and to uncover instructive messages which can be useful when facing global infections in the future.Descriptive exploratory qualitative study of six Chinese nurses.Data were collected in 2003, within the three months following the nurses' quarantine necessitated by caring for SARS patients. Conventional content analysis was done using a cyberspace method of data analysis, where the geographically distant researchers conducted most phases of analysis through email communication.Chinese nurses faced personal challenge, focused on the essence of care and experienced self-growth while caring for SARS patients. They cited structured support, meaningful disease-related information and sensitivity to the importance of a collaborative spirit as factors which enabled their caring nursing practice.These instructive messages come from China, where the SARS epidemic inflicted an unparalleled health impact. The messages give voice to the Chinese nursing experience and when synthesised with reports from other international nurses, they enable specific direction to enhance potential for a well-prepared nursing workforce and quality patient care in future epidemics.The preparation of a knowledgeable, cared-for nursing workforce promises optimal outcomes with the emergence of the next global infection.