Nurse began playing basketball at the age of four, and by the time she was seven years old, she was playing in a competitive league.
Nurse played basketball while attending St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, Ontario. During her playing career, she helped the team win three consecutive OFSAA high school championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. She played for a club team called Hamilton Transway which won seven consecutive provincial championships.
While still in high school, she was invited to the training camp for Canada's national team. She was invited mainly "for the experience", planning for the future of the team, but she played well enough to earn a spot on the roster.
Approximately 50 colleges and universities contacted Nurse to ask her to consider playing for their team. She initially narrowed down the list to four teams, Connecticut, Penn State, Indiana and Kentucky, but eventually chose Connecticut. After signing her letter of intent, she revealed that she had recorded a goal of playing for Connecticut while still a seventh grader.
Nurse was invited to play on the under-17 national team in the FIBA Under-17 World Championship for Women, held in Amsterdam in 2012. She averaged almost 14 points per game, and helped the team to a third place finish.
She was invited to join the national team, to play in the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship for Women, held in Xalapa, Mexico from September 21–28, 2013. She averaged ten points per game, and helped the Canadian National team to a second place, silver medal finish. Canada faced Cuba in a preliminary round and won 53–40, but in the championship game, Cuba prevailed 79–71.
Nurse played on the Canadian national team in the 2014 FIBA World Championship. The team lost to Australia in the quarterfinals, then beat France and China to finish in fifth place. Nurse averaged almost 22 minutes per game at the point guard position, averaging almost seven points per games, fourth most on the roster, while being the youngest player on the roster.
Nurse was a member of the Canada women's national basketball team which participated in basketball at the 2015 Pan American Games held in Toronto, Canada July 10 to 26, 2015. Canada opened the preliminary rounds with an easy 101–38 win over Venezuela. The following day they beat Argentina 73–58. The final preliminary game was against Cuba; both teams were 2–0, so the winner would win the group. The game went down to the wire with Canada eking out a 71–68 win. Canada would face Brazil in the semifinal.
Everything seemed to go right in the semifinal game. Canada opened the game with an 11–2 run on seven consecutive points by Miranda Ayim. Miah-Marie Langlois contributed five assists. In the third quarter Canada strongly out rebounded Brazil and hit 69% of their field goals to score 33 points in the quarter. Lizanne Murphy and Nirra Fields hit three-pointers to help extend the lead to 68–39 at the end of three quarters. Canada continued to dominate in the fourth quarter with three-pointers by Nurse and Kim Gaucher. Canada went on to win the game 91–63 to earn a spot in the gold-medal game against the USA.
The gold-medal game matched up the host team Canada against USA, in a sold out arena dominated by fans in red and white and waving the Canadian flag. The Canadian team, arm in arm, sang Oh Canada as the respective national anthems were played.
After trading baskets early the US edged out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter. However the Canadians, spurred on by the home crowd cheering, fought back and tied up the game at halftime. In the third quarter, it was Canada's time to shine as they outscore the US 26–15. The lead would reach as high as 18 points. The USA would fight back, but not all the way and Canada won the game and the gold-medal 81–73. It was Canada's first gold-medal in basketball in the Pan Am games. Nurse was the star for Canada with 33 points, hitting 11 of her 12 free-throw attempts and 10 of her 17 field-goal attempts including two of three three-pointers. Her performance led to her selection as the flag-bearer in the event's closing ceremonies.
Nurse played for Canada at the 2015 FIBA Americas Women's Championship, a qualifying event used to determine invitations to the 2016 Olympics. The games were held in Edmonton, Canada in August 2015. Canada was assigned to Group A and played Puerto Rico, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Cuba in the preliminary rounds. Canada won the first three games easily with a 94–57 win over Puerto Rico is the closest match. The final preliminary round game was against undefeated Cuba, a team Canada had faced in the Pan Am games. Cuba played well in that event and was expected to challenge Canada. However, Canada defeated Cuba 92–43 to win first place in the group for a spot in the semifinal against the second-place team in group B, Brazil. Nurse was the leading scorer for Canada with 14 points in the game.
The semifinal game against Brazil was much closer. Canada led by only six points at halftime but gradually expanded the lead to end up with an 83–66 win, and a spot in the gold-medal game. With teammate Shona Thorburn sidelined with an injury, Nurse played 35 minutes, the most of any player on the team. The gold-medal game was a rematch with Cuba who won their semifinal game against Argentina. Despite the lopsided result in the preliminary rounds, Canada expected a closer game. Cuba started off strong and had an eight point lead early in the game. Canada responded with a 16–0 run to take over the lead, but Cuba responded and took a small lead early in the second half. Then Canada took the lead back and gradually expanded the lead to end up with the win, 82–66. As the game wound down to the close, the crowd was chanting "Rio","Rio","Rio" in recognition of the fact that the win qualifies Canada for the Olympics in Rio in 2016. Nurse was the leading scorer for Canada with 20 points, and her overall performance earned her the MVP award for the entire event.
Kia Nurse was born to Richard and Cathy Nurse and was raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Richard Nurse played in the CFL and Cathy Nurse was a basketball player at McMaster University in Canada. Her older siblings are Tamika Nurse, who played basketball for Oregon and Bowling Green, and professional hockey player Darnell Nurse. Her cousin is Sarah Nurse, who currently plays for the Wisconsin Badgers women's ice hockey program. She is also the niece of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb who is married to her aunt Raquel Nurse McNabb.