Aims and objectives To synthesise the available body of qualitative evidence relating to nurses' perceptions and experiences of care provision in adult critical care environments. Methods The study adhered to ENTREQ (Confidence in Evidence of Reviews of Qualitative Research) guidelines. See Appendix S1. A systematic search of the literature in nine databases was undertaken: CINAHL, Web of Science, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Campbell Collaboration, ProQuest A & I, DART and Lenus. Blind screening to select relevant studies was undertaken, and each selected study was assessed for quality using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme framework. Guided by Thomas and Harden's three-stage approach to thematic analysis, line-by-line coding of participants' verbatim accounts and the researchers' interpretations in the selected studies' findings was undertaken and then organised into higher order analytical themes. Confidence in the findings was reviewed using GRADE-CERQual. Results Twelve studies reported in thirteen papers, including 122 nurses, were selected in the final sample for synthesis. Three analytical themes were identified: (a) sometimes machines get all the attention, (b) with experience the patient becomes the focus and (c) technology can't save everybody. Conclusions Providing care for adult patients in a highly technological environment is challenging particularly for novice nurses, who face the potential of technology drawing all their attention. Experienced critical care nurses learn to keep technology in abeyance and deliver person-centred care within the bounds of a technological environment. Relevance to clinical practice The review supports Locsin's theory of technological competence and highlights that providing care in critical care requires nurses to actively balance attention for the person while managing machines. Experienced nurses achieve this balance and can offer support to novice nurses. Critical care nurse orientation programmes should be underpinned by a holistic approach which addresses the dualism of technology and care.