Summary Natural language processing (NLP) systems have demonstrated utility in parsing narrative texts for purposes such as surveillance and decision support. However, there has been little work related to NLP of nursing narratives. The purpose of this study was to compare the semantic categories of a NLP system (Medical Language Extraction and Encoding [MedLEE] system) with the semantic domains, categories, and attributes of the International Standards Organization (ISO) reference terminology models for nursing diagnoses and nursing actions. All but two MedLEE diagnosis and procedure-related semantic categories mapped to ISO models. In some instances, we found exact correspondence between the semantic structures of MedLEE and the ISO models. In other situations (e.g. aspects of Site or Location), the ISO model was not as granular as MedLEE. For clinical procedure and non-invasive examination, two ISO nursing action model components (Action and Target) mapped to a single MedLEE semantic category. The ISO models are applicable to NLP of nursing narratives. However, the ISO models require additional specification of selected semantic categories for the abstract semantic domains in order to achieve the objective of using NLP to parse and encode data from nursing narratives. Our analysis also suggests areas for extension of MedLEE particularly in regard to represent nursing actions.