Education is crucial to how nurses practice, talk and write about keeping patients safe. The aim of this multisite study was to explore the formal and informal ways the pre-registration medical, nursing, pharmacy and physiotherapy students learn about patient safety. This paper focuses on findings from nursing. A multi-method design underpinned by the concept of knowledge contexts and illuminative evaluation was employed. Scoping of nursing curricula from four UK university programmes was followed by in-depth case studies of two programmes. Scoping involved analysing curriculum documents and interviews with 8 programme leaders. Case-study data collection included focus groups (24 students, 12 qualified nurses, 6 service users); practice placement observation (4 episodes = 19 hrs) and interviews (4 Health Service managers). Within academic contexts patient safety was not visible as a curricular theme: programme leaders struggled to define it and some felt labelling to be problematic. Litigation and the risk of losing authorisation to practise were drivers to update safety in the programmes. Students reported being taught idealised skills in university with an emphasis on ‘what not to do’. In organisational contexts patient safety was conceptualised as a complicated problem, addressed via strategies, systems and procedures. A tension emerged between creating a ‘no blame’ culture and performance management. Few formal mechanisms appeared to exist for students to learn about organisational systems and procedures. In practice, students learnt by observing staff who acted as variable role models; challenging practice was problematic, since they needed to ‘fit in’ and mentors were viewed as deciding whether they passed or failed their placements. The study highlights tensions both between and across contexts, which link to formal and informal patient safety education and impact negatively on students' feelings of emotional safety in their learning.