Abstract Purpose To investigate nursing students' knowledge of and attitudes about problem-based learning (PBL). Methods A total of 1200 students were surveyed at eight nursing colleges in Hunan Province. Results In all, 1037 valid questionnaires were returned, for an effective return rate of 86.4%. Some 54.4% of the students learned that PBL was a pedagogical method from teachers, and 27.8% of the students had participated in PBL courses. Almost all of students (97.6%) were interested in PBL, and 66.7% of survey participants believed that students who were not good at solving problems would have difficulty in PBL courses. Conclusion Nursing educators should guide students to adapt to new learning approaches, and encourage students to participate in the teaching reform to promote students' autonomous learning ability, innovation ability, and comprehensive ability.