Although compassion is considered integral to nursing, the ongoing reality of this traditional philosophy has been challenged due to emerging patient reports of care experiences reflecting a lack of compassion. Political and professional guidance reaffirms compassion as an enduring philosophy of contemporary nursing practice, but provides limited insight into what compassion involves. To address this knowledge gap, a constructivist grounded theory study was undertaken with eleven participants who had experienced nursing care as patients across a range of contexts, exploring what they perceived compassion to involve. Theoretical sampling supported data collection via eleven interviews, a focus group discussion and three additional interviews. Data was analysed with initial coding, focused coding and conceptual mapping. Key findings highlighted the importance of cultivating compassion, which involved learning about compassion, role modelling for compassion, leadership for compassion, resources for compassion and systems and processes for compassion. These findings contribute to the ongoing professional dialogue surrounding compassion, specifically in relation to recruitment and selection, nurse education curricula, supervision of student nurses, compassionate organisational cultures, staffing levels and the systems and processes that underpin contemporary ways of working.