Aim: To explore critical care patients and families experiences and seek their input into nurses' postgraduate educational preparation and practice. Background: There is an inconsistency in the expected standard of practice to 'qualify' Australian critical care nurses. There has also been a lack of health consumer input in the development of postgraduate course curriculum and content. Method: Following institutional ethics committee approval, purposive sampling was used to select participants for focus groups and individual interviews who had experienced intensive care or coronary care. Findings: Seventeen participants provided data which created two main thematic categories; the role of the critical care nurse and; minimum practice standards for postgraduate critical care course graduates. Both physical patient care and socio-emotional support of patients and family were identified as important for the critical care nurse role. The level of socio-emotional support provided by nurses was reported to be inconsistent. Components of socio-emotional support included communication, people skills, facilitating family presence and advocacy. These components were reflected in participants' concepts of minimum practice standards for postgraduate critical care course graduates; talking and listening skills, relating to and dealing with stressed people, individualizing care and patient and family advocacy. Conclusion: Health consumers' views emphasize that socio-emotional skills and behaviours need to be explicitly described in postgraduate critical care nursing course curricula and instruments developed to consistently assess these core competencies.