Phenomenology was introduced to the field of nursing in late ‘70s in the US and Scandinavia. Since then, phenomenology has developed as a commonly used approach within nursing research. However, during the past two to three decades, phenomenological nursing research has come under attack from scholars outside the field of nursing who question the credibility and usefulness of phenomenological nursing research. The aim of this discussion paper is twofold: 1) to illuminate why phenomenology was introduced by nurse scholars to develop theory and as a framework for empirical research in the US and Scandinavia; and 2) to discuss the legitimacy of applying a phenomenological approach in nursing research and practice today. The rationale behind advocating the integration of a phenomenological approach into nursing practice was to defend, apprehend and articulate the essence of caregiving in theory building within nursing. We claim these arguments are maybe even more important today. Using three examples of empirical phenomenological studies, we illustrate how these studies provide theoretically informed insights into existential aspects of care that guide caring practice and accordingly humanise practice. We argue that phenomenology provides the nursing profession with a humanly sensitive approach that challenges the current tendency within healthcare to emphasise an evidence-based, standardised approach to patient care that inclines to neglect each patient’s uniqueness. Nursing profession may lose its very raison d'être, i.e. to deliver humanly sensitive care, if nursing research ceases to address existential aspects of being a human. Thus, it is evident that phenomenological nursing studies have legitimacy and are important for developing theoretically informed insights that promote the discipline of nursing. Consequently, the value of phenomenological nursing research should be assessed based on the findings it provides that promote such knowledge. Hence, credibility and usefulness of phenomenological nursing research must be determined by the discipline itself.