Patricia Benner, PhD., R.N., FAAN, FRCN is a nursing theorist famous for introducing
the Skill Acquisition in nursing or the "From Novice to Expert model." This theory
explains that nurses develop skills and understand patient care from experience, over
time, through proper education and from a variety of experiences. Her pioneer work was
first published in her book titled "From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in
Clinical Nursing Practice."
Dr. Benner was born May 10, 1955 in Hampton, Virginia, to parents Shirley and Clint
Sawyer. Her father was a shipbuilder, and she is the middle child of 3 children. The
Sawyers moved to California where Patricia and her sisters attended high school. Her
parents later divorced, and Patricia went off to college. While in college, Patricia
first became interested in nursing when she had the opportunity to work as an admitting
clerk at a hospital in Pasadena, California. She married Richard Benner in August 1967
and had 2 children: a son born in 1973 and a daughter born in 1981.
Patricia Benner started college at Pasadena City College where she received her bachelor's
degree in nursing, in 1964. She obtained her master's degree from the University of
California, Berkeley, in Medical-Surgical Nursing. Upon completion of her doctorate
in 1982, she became an Associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco,
in the Department of Physiological Nursing.
Dr. Benner has published 9 books and written many articles. She received Book of
The Year Award from AJN (The American Journal of Nursing) in 1984,1990, 1996 and 2000. In
1989, she received the Linda Richards Award for Leadership in Education, and Excellence
in Nursing Research/Education Award in 1990. She is currently the Chief Faculty Development
Officer for Educating Nurses, the Director of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching National Nursing Education and honorary fellow of the Royal College of Nursing.
Patricia Benner is known internationally as an acclaimed author, lecturer and researcher
on health and ethics. Her work has influenced several areas of clinical practice and
clinical ethics. She has directed more than 50 doctoral dissertations and pioneered
the use of interpretive phenomenology in nursing-an approach to psychological qualitative
research that seeks to understand how a given person in a given context makes sense of
a given phenomenon - and its application in nursing.
Contributions to Nursing
Dr. Benner credits Virginia Henderson as the person who greatly influenced her thinking
in nursing. Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus were professors at the University of California
at Berkeley and the founders of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition - she used the
Dreyfus model as a foundation for her theory: novice to expert and the concept of
reflective practice. The Dreyfus model was first developed to study the performance
of chess players. The Dreyfus brothers believed in learning through experience; that
learning was situation-based and that a student had to pass through five stages in
learning-from novice to expert. Dr. Benner found that similar parallels also happened
in nursing, where practice depended on experience and knowledge, and developing those
skills was a long process that occurred over time. She found when nurses were exposed
to various situations; they learned from them and developed "skills of involvement"
from those interactions with patients and family.
Dr. Benner's theory is significant because it shows that these levels of learning,
from novice to expert, reflect a movement from past, abstract concepts to past, concrete
experiences. Each step builds from the previous one. The nurse gains clinical experience
as these abstract principles are expanded over time. To this day, Patricia Benner's model
remains one of the most useful frameworks for assessing nurses' needs at different stages
of their professional growth. Dr. Benner's theory focuses on how nurses acquire nursing
knowledge, and not on how to be a nurse. A nurse could gain knowledge and skills-"knowing
how," without ever learning the theory-"knowing that."
What this model has done to the field of nursing is to promote the understanding of what
it means to be an expert nurse. The definition of the expert is no longer the nurse with
the highest paying job, but the nurse who provides the most qualified nursing care.
Among her many contributions to nursing education are: "Educating Nurses: A Call for
Radical Transformation" and several other publications including, "Expertise in Nursing
Practice: Caring, Clinical Judgment, and Ethics" and "Clinical Wisdom and Interventions
in Acute and Critical Care."
Catherine Lynch Gilliss, PhD, R.N., FAAN, former President (2009-2011) of the American
Academy of Nursing and Dean at the Duke University School of Nursing named Patricia
Benner as one of the American Academy of Nursing's "Living Legends" and stated that
Dr. Benner's contribution to the field of nursing included: "articulating knowledge
embedded in nursing practice, skill acquisition, clinical reasoning … and the ethics