Abstract Sally Gadow influenced our work when we first began exploring the meaning of nursing philosophically. In this article, we discuss two major themes of Gadow's work that have influenced us: existential advocacy and treating the body objectively without reducing the patient to the moral status of an object. Our treatment of these issues is appreciative but not uncritical. We argue that existential advocacy makes an important contribution to the meaning of nursing but that it cannot be its essential meaning. We contend that Gadow, by making self-direction the essence of care, tends to diminish the intersubjective nature of care. Then we show how Gadow recovers the intersubjective nature of care by disclosing how nurses and patients both become subjects in personal relationships, even when tending to the body objectively. We show how hermeneutic phenomenology, which we favour, can contribute to Gadow's existential phenomenology by using examples from nursing practice to disclose the meaning of nursing. Gadow's major contribution to our work has been in the ways her work has evoked creative thought from us concerning the meaning of nursing.