To investigate the prevalence and extent of burnout on nurses and its association with personal resilience. With the worldwide shortage of nurses, nurse burnout is considered one of the main contributing factors and has been the focus of studies in recent years. Given the well-documented high level of burnout among nurses, resilience is expected to be a significant predictor of nurse burnout. The association between burnout and resilience has not previously been investigated extensively. A cross-sectional survey design was selected. A total of 1,061 nurses from six separate three-level hospitals in Hunan Province, China, returned self-reported questionnaires from March-June 2015. Data were collected using a socio-demographic sheet, Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale. Nurses experienced severe burnout symptoms and showed a moderate level of resilience. Three metrics of burnout had significantly negative correlations with the total score and following variables of resilience. Linear regression analysis showed resilience, especially strength, demographic characteristics (exercise, alcohol use and marital status) and job characteristics (income per month, ratio of patients to nurses, shift work and professional rank) were the main predictors of the three metrics of burnout. The findings of this study may help nurse managers and hospital administrators to have a better understanding of nurse burnout and resilience. The significantly negative relationship between burnout symptoms and resilience has been demonstrated, and this informs the role of resilience in influencing burnout. Adaptable and effective interventions for improving resilience are needed to relieve nurses' burnout and reduce workplace stress. Moreover, nurse managers and hospital administrators should establish an effective management system to cultivate a healthy workplace and adopt positive attitudes and harmonious relationships. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.