This paper reports the findings of a documentary analysis and literature review of general and paediatric intensive care unit (ICU) courses (ENB 100 and ENB 415). The findings are part of a larger review of critical care courses commissioned by the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (ENB), also incorporating operating department, coronary care and accident and emergency courses. It was important to set the curriculum review in the context of intensive care practice and education, hence the study also comprised interviews with lecturers and ICU managers. The study findings reveal diversity in major aspects of the critical care courses, including the academic level of the programmes and credits they attracted; the assessment strategies for theory and practice, the extent of shared learning and the amount of student effort. Many factors influenced this diversity including contrary opinion among stakeholders about the purpose of the course: to prime the students for working in the specialty; or to consolidate previous experience (in some cases up to 15 years). Course structure and content have changed in response to local university requirements and directives from the statutory bodies, as well as in response to the higher level of academic credit awarded for pre-registration programmes (qualification inflation). The perceived shift in course content as well as the diversity across programmes had led a group of ICU managers to define their own list of competencies (Crunden 1998). However, the majority of the managers interviewed for this study (63% of General ICU managers (n = 19) and 83% (n = 6) of Paediatric ICU managers) were generally satisfied with the competencies and skills of the nurses who had undertaken the ENB course. The authors conclude from the diverse nature of the courses that there is little national comparability in the courses although this finding might be an artefact of documentary analysis. The extent to which this (apparent) diversity results in different levels of competence in practice requires further exploration.