An evaluation of the seminal work of Patricia Benner: theory or philosophy?

Contemp Nurse. 2007 May-Jun;25(1-2):114-23. doi: 10.5172/conu.2007.25.1-2.114.


The purpose of this article is to review the seminal work of Patricia Benner, From Novice to Expert, in order to assert it as a philosophy and not a theory. In the literature there is no clear consensus on where this model stands - theory or philosophy. There is no intent to devalue Patricia Benner's work as it is valuable and has become widely used in nursing practice, research, education and administration. However, as a philosophy, Benner's interpretive work is more constructive. Appropriate use of this model requires an understanding of whether it is a theory or a philosophy, its underpinnings and an assessment of its development and testing. This can be accomplished by knowing the differences between a theory and a philosophy and by reviewing the ways of knowing and processes of reasoning which are necessary for skill acquisition. Much of the critique of Benner's work falls into two categories: it is not quantitative research and there are issues with the use of narratives. These will be reviewed. Judgment and understanding of the nature of Benner's model allows for its appropriate use in journal articles, research, or other projects and/or modification as necessary.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nursing*