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Patricia Benner

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."


Early Years

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.

Educational Background

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.

Professional Accomplishments

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 of care."

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