Professional, political and organisational factors have focused attention on the discharge planning process in the Victorian health care sector. Discharge planning for patients, as part of continuity of care, is seen as a key concept in the delivery of nursing care. However, there is no question that discharge planning has emerged as a complex area of practice, and is, perhaps, most complex in the critical care area.The study reported here is part of a larger thesis exploring critical care nurses' perceptions and understanding of the discharge planning process in the health care system in the state of Victoria, Australia. As part of the survey participants were asked to define discharge planning as it related to the critical care environment in which they worked.Utilising an exploratory descriptive approach, 502 Victorian critical care nurses were approached to take part in the study. The resultant net total of 218 participants completed the survey, which represented a net response rate of 43.4%. The data were analysed using quantitative and qualitative methodologies.Three common themes emerged. A significant number of participants did not believe that discharge planning occurred in critical care, and therefore, thought that they could not provide a definition. There was uncertainty as to what the discharge planning process actually referred to in terms of discharge from critical care to the general ward or discharge from the hospital. There was an emphasis on movement of the patient to the general ward, which was considered in three main ways by first, getting the patient ready for transfer; second, ensuring a smooth transition to the ward and third, transfer of the patient to the ward often occurred because the critical care bed was needed for another patient.The findings presented here suggest at a nursing level, the discharge planning process is not well understood and some degree of mutual exclusivity still remains. There is a need for further education of critical care nurses with regard to the underlying principles of the discharge planning process.