This qualitative study explores how junior nurses, and some who were still in training, navigated the complexities and uncertainties engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Data are drawn from in-depth interviews with 18 students/nurses in Christchurch, New Zealand. Managing intertwining risk, care and careerscapes takes an intensified form as existing infection control rules, established norms of care, boundaries between home and work and expected career trajectories roil. 'Safe' and 'risky' spaces are porous but maintained using contextual, critical, clinical judgement. Carescapes are stretched, both within and beyond the walls of healthcare settings. Within the COVID-19 riskscape, careerscapes are open to both threat and opportunity. Countries demand much of their healthcare staff in times of heath crises, but have a limited appreciation of what it takes to translate seemingly tightly bounded protocols into effective practice. The labour required in this work of translation is navigated moment by moment. To surface some of this invisible work, those implementing pandemic plans may need to more carefully consider how to incorporate attention to the work/home/public boundary as well as overtly acknowledging the invisible emotional, physical and intellectual labour carried out in crisis risk, care and careerscapes. © 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.