Background Changing community demographics and the rising incidence of chronic and complex conditions has exacerbated the primary care workload. Encouraging beginning nurses to view primary care nursing as a viable career option will help alleviate the workforce stress of this specialty. Whilst higher education institutions (HEI's) have increased the exposure of pre-registration nurses to community settings, there has been limited exploration of this experience from the perspective of pre-registration nurses. As potential key service providers, it is important to identify factors which influence how pre-registration nurses view primary care placements in the community. Aim This study seeks to explore the experiences of pre-registration nursing students following community based clinical placements and to explore the impact of this placement on their learning. Design A qualitative design was employed in this study. Participants Nine pre-registration nursing students were recruited from a research intensive single campus of an Australian university. Methods In-depth semi-structured interviews. Findings Findings are presented in the following four themes: (1) autonomy in practice: "you make your own decisions", (2) working with highly skilled nurses: "their knowledge was just incredible", (3) focusing on holistic care: "they'd obviously built rapport with these people", and (4) showing genuine interest in educating students: "they got me involved". Conclusion Exposure to community settings was a positive learning experience for pre-registration nursing students. Further research needs to focus on the impact of these placements on both clinical skills acquisition and job choices into the future.