Nursing Theorists and Their Work

The goal of Benner’s clinical study was to unravel the knowledge that accompanies nursing practice. Benner’s main assumption was that the “collection and record keeping of expert nurses’ perceptions, recognition abilities, meanings and characteristics, and outcomes would enable nurses to refine skills and advance their practice” (Byrkczynski, 2010). Benner’s work included conducting interviews with both fresh and experienced nurses.

The nurses’ interviews sought to highlight the main disparities that occur when nursing professionals react to various clinical situations. The theorist notes that “not knowing who and what we are about now will seriously impede what we want to become” (Benner, 1982). Consequently, it is clear that Benner’s nursing theory explicitly assumes that it is important for nursing professionals to be aware of their level of expertise. The theorist also implies that the nursing profession is complex and significant. Therefore, Benner’s theory sought to simplify the methods and modalities of understanding the nursing profession. Another assumption that is implicitly made by the theorist is that the nursing profession is sparsely documented.

For instance, nurses lack good documenting skills in the course of their clinical practices. Lack of good scholarship practices in the nursing profession undermines the level of expertise in professional nurses. This implication is made by Benner in her theory on levels of expertise. When it is compared to other clinical professionals, nursing lacks the fundamental practices that facilitate intense knowledge gathering. The theorist notes that most nursing professionals lack important ‘charting and clinical observation’ skills (Benner, 1982).

It is clear that the theorist considers knowledge to be in two categories; the one that enables individuals to “know that” and the one that helps them to “know how” (Benner, 1982). The two types of knowledge are explicitly aligned by the theorist with the view of distinguishing the various discourses within her theory. Benner maintains that both practical and theoretical types of knowledge are dependent on each other. For instance, a nurse’s practical knowledge (know-how) can be improved when he/she undertakes further studies (know-that).

On the other hand, a nurse’s theoretical knowledge (know-that) can be improved when he/she engages in the actual nursing practice (know-that). Consequently, Benner’s theory explicitly assumes that the advancement of nursing practice strongly relies on the inter-exchanges between practical and theoretical knowledge. The nursing theorist bases her views on the fact that there are several practical skills that have not been theorized yet. On the contrary, there are several theories that have not been translated into nursing practice.

Benner’s theory implies that ‘experience is a requisite for expertise’ (Byrkczynski, 2010). A nurse’s continued ability to test and define hypotheses in the course of his/her practice, eventually becomes experience. According to Benner’s theory, proficient nurses are useful when it comes to the mentoring of the ‘younger’ professionals. For example, inexperienced nurses can use the clinical knowledge of experienced professionals and add it to their own expertise. If the junior nurses continue to utilize the knowledge of experienced nurses, they will eventually advance to higher levels.

Benner’s theory hypothesizes that the level of an individual’s expertise depends on a particular situation. According to Benner, “an expert nurse perceives the situation as a whole, uses past concrete situations, and moves to the exact location of the problem without wasteful consideration of irrelevant options; whereas less experienced nurses in a new situation must rely on conscious, deliberate, analytic problem solving of an elemental nature” (Benner, 1982). Therefore, the theorist implies that expertise cannot be analyzed without considering the ‘situation’ first.


Benner, P. (1982). From novice to expert. American Journal of Nursing, 82(3), 402-407.

Byrkczynski, K. A. (2010). Nursing theorists and their work. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

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