Aims and objectives: To understand and interpret the experiences of nurse-family members when a family member or loved one is hospitalised in a critical condition. Background: Having a family member hospitalised with a critical illness is a traumatic stressor, often with long-term sequelae. Providing holistic care for family members who are also nurses makes the provision of care more complex because of their professional expertise; yet few studies have explored this issue. Design: In this descriptive study, qualitative data were collected using a questionnaire and analysed using van Manen's (Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, 1990, State University of New York Press, London, ON) six-step approach. Methods: Twenty nurse-family members completed an online questionnaire in June 2013. Qualitative findings from 19 participants were included in the analysis. The phenomenological analysis approach described by van Manen (Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, 1990, State University of New York Press, London, ON) was used to describe and interpret nurse-family member experiences. Results: Nurse-family members experience significant dual role conflicts between their personal and professional personas due to their specialised knowledge, need for watchfulness and competing expectations. Our findings describe how dual role conflicts developed and were managed, and reveal the resultant emotional toll and psychological distress as nurse-family members struggled to resolve these conflicts. Conclusions: Nurse-family members require a different type of care than general public family members, yet their unique needs are often unmet, leading to increased anxiety and distress that could potentially be minimised. An increased awareness and emphasis on the nurse-family member experience can ensure health care professionals are better placed to provide appropriate and targeted care to minimise distressing dual role conflicts. Relevance to clinical practice: There is a need for targeted and specialised communication appropriate to each nurse-family members' needs and level of understanding, and to clarify expectations to ensure nurse-family members' professional knowledge and skills are recognised and respected without being exploited.