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Abstract The general expectation that patients should be willing to trust nurses is rarely explored or challenged despite claims of diminishing public trust in social and professional institutions. Everyday meanings of trust take account of circumstance and suggest that our understanding of what it means to trust is contextually bound. However, in the context of health care, to trust implies a particular understanding which becomes apparent when abuses of this trust are reported and acknowledged as scandals. The predominant assumption in the literature that trust is something that occurs between equally competent adults cannot explain trust in nursing precisely because of the unequal power relationships between patients on the one hand and healthcare professionals on the other. Moreover, the tendency to conflate terms such as trust, reliance, confidence and so on suggests that confusion permeates discussions of trust in nursing. In this paper, I argue in support of Annette Baier’s requirement of good will (or lack of ill will) as the essential feature of trust, and outline how this account (i) enables us to make the necessary distinctions between trust on the one hand and ‘trust pretenders’ on the other; and (ii) lays the foundations for understanding trust in relationships, such as those between patients and nurses, where power differentials exist.