Patricia Benner: From Novice to Expert Theory

The nursing field is a challenging area that requires substantial knowledge background and personal experience, which play a critical role in the expertise of the professionals. Besides, various theories represent a solid scientific foundation for nurses. According to Oshvandi et al. (2016), theoretical groundwork provides “a framework as well as goals for recognition and assessment of nursing practices” (p. 3014). Thus, numerous models and concepts serve as a contribution to the field. Patricia Benner became one of the scholars who came up with a theory From Novice to Expert, explaining how nurses can develop their skills. The purpose of this paper is to investigate Benner’s principle and research the related concepts.

It is crucial to look at the essence of the theory and how the scholar came up with it. Benner based her idea on the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition proposed by two mathematics and philosophy professors at the University of California, applying it to nursing (Benner, 1982). In other words, the theorist took an existing general concept and managed to adapt it to one of the healthcare branches. The Dreyfus Model suggests that there are five levels of proficiency, including novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert, which represent the changes in skilled performance (Benner, 1982). Hence, the scale describes the levels of the acquired skills within individuals and can be pertained to the professional field. Benner claimed that the nurses develop their knowledge, clinical competence, and understanding of patient care gradually moving through the model’s phases (Ozdemir, 2019). Therefore, the length of working time as a nursing professional and the amount of experience can influence the pace with which an individual can reach the expert level.

In such a way, Patricia Benner utilized the Dreyfus Model and used it as guidance to conduct the studies about the gaining of the skills in nursing. In one of her works, Benner (2004) revealed several pieces of research with newly graduated nurses, with the professionals working in intensive care units, emergency departments, operating rooms, and home health. It is possible to say that the scope of those studies aimed to cover the nurses from different areas of the industry to gain more precise results. The primary aims of the analyses were to explain the nature of acquiring new skills in critical-care and to describe “the practical knowledge embedded in expert practice” (Benner, 2004, p. 188). One can claim that the Dreyfus Model served as the foundation for those researches because it could assist in outlining the skills acquisition journey among nursing professionals from different areas.

Another significant aspect of the nursing field related to the discussed theory is what knowledge and experience a nurse should possess. Nursing practice can be complicated and varied, and high-quality care requires the development of “skillful, ethical comportment” and reliable clinical judgment (Benner, 2004, p. 189). Hence, the practitioners need to apply scientific evidence, advancements in technology, latest findings, and personal experience to perform at their best and move from novice to expert stage. It is essential to mention that nurses face different challenges throughout the phases of skill acquisition. For instance, during the novice level, professionals often focus on task completion but encounter issues with prioritization and critical thinking (Fitzpatrick & Gripshover, 2016). This fact implies that there is a need for support and leadership to gain the necessary knowledge and contemplation for the nurses who begin their path.

Based on this factor, educational background and experts’ assistance occupy a substantial place in an individual nurse’s growth and development as a professional. According to Brown and Sorrell (2017), the need for health care services is increasing, which results in a higher number of students and the shortage of nursing faculty. It imposes a challenge for the industry to search for new ways of providing required education for individuals, and From Novice to Expert theory can become a practical tool in this process. The concept proposes that “seasoned, experienced faculty are considered experts,” and they can serve as significant support and mentorship to novice educators (Brown & Sorrell, 2017, p. 210). Consequently, nursing specialists who have thrived throughout the model stages can help the beginners to become proficient with their responsibilities and academic assignments.

The point is that expert nurses’ skills and experiences can cover numerous aspects of a foundation for becoming a highly-qualified professional. It is vital to state that when a nurse reaches the final phase of the acquisition model, their performance becomes “holistic rather than fractioned and procedural” (Benner, 1982, p. 406). As a result, it can contribute to the creation of a higher presence of educators and reduce the insufficiency in the nursing faculty.

Based on her theory, Patricia Benner provided a significant base for the nursing field. Besides the description of the skills acquisition journey, the scholar stated that nurses should integrate intuition through such practices as pattern and similarity recognition, and common-sense understanding, in their practice (Benner & Tanner, 1987). It is possible to say that viewing every case in the clinical operations through those perspectives can generate a more considerate way of thinking and judgment. Moreover, the scholar suggested the concept of skilled know-how among nursing professionals. The expertise in nursing practice if often acquired without “knowing that,” which implies that it should be supported by theory-based learning and the existing knowledge from experts (Benner, 1983). Therefore, the know-how principle is sometimes gained unconsciously throughout moving from novice to expert, and additional comprehension can help to master it.

Benner’s model serves as a foundation for researches in the nursing field, aiming to identify the way the professionals go through while gaining their proficiency and experience. For instance, one of the works took Benner’s expertise description seeking to propose new criteria for the selection of experts for validation studies. According to the discussed theorist, an expert nurse should possess a minimum of five-year experience and capability for pattern recognition (Quatrini Carvalho Passos Guimarães, Pena, Lopes, Lopes, & Bottura Leite de Barros, 2016). Those factors are not the only ones that determine the level of expertise. They should also promptly respond to urgent situations, manage multiple therapies, and have a high sense of responsibility (Quatrini Carvalho Passos Guimarães et al., 2016). It is possible to say that intuition, the ability to behave in emergencies, multi-tasking skills, and concern for others are essential for the experts.

Based on those considerations, the researchers developed a new list of criteria for the selection, modifying Benner’s findings. In such a way, four-year work experience, one-year experience in clinical teaching, involvement in research practice, and Ph.D. or Master’s degree in nursing were identified (Quatrini Carvalho Passos Guimarães et al., 2016). Consequently, new guidelines were designed in addition to the ones from Benner’s From Novice to Expert theory. It is crucial to mention that each of those factors has a different scoring, which can play a role in the expert selection for future studies depending on their aims.

Another study talks about the significance of the period before the novice stage, which, according to Benner, is the first skill acquisition stage. Aller (2017) believes that it is crucial to investigate the concept of students as pre-novices. One can state that pre-novice implicates that it occurs before nurses are transited into clinical practice and start gaining practical experience. Benner suggests such attributes as clinical reasoning, nursing enactment, and prioritization when an individual is progressing from the first stage, including the students in the novice phase (Aller, 2017). Thus, this study claims that those who are still obtaining their education should be considered pre-novice. Nurses are initially prepared in the educational settings, and “high-quality care begins during their student journey before they are faced with the challenges inherent in the transition to practice” (Aller, 2017, p. 4). Hence, the research used Benner’s findings on the nurses’ development and suggested the significance of distinguishing between the nurses who have not got their degree or license yet.

In conclusion, Patricia Benner significantly contributed to the nursing field. The scholar grounded her theory in the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition, describing how nurses move throughout five stages and delineating the attributes of each phase. Her findings serve as a foundation for different researches in the clinical context and emphasize the intuition, skilled know-how, and the experience that professionals get during their practice. It is possible to say that From Novice to Expert theory outlines the factors essential for nurses to gain expertise, which can represent substantial support and assistance for specialists in their journey.


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