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Novice to Expert

    Susan Knowles, DNP, RN

From novice to expert by Benner (1982) is a MUST read classic. 


This article seems as current today as when it was written. Dr. Benner formulated her model From Novice to Expert based on the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition (Benner, 1982). She found that nurses go through five levels of skill proficiency: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert (Benner, 1982). Both novice students and practitioners rely on rules to guide their actions. It is important to note that a novice is unable to "use discretionary judgment" because, without experience, they are unable to prioritize a clinical situation (Benner, 1982). A nurse who can cope and manage many clinical situations with approximately two-three years of experience is at the competent level (Benner, 1982).


If you often feel frustrated by rules or find exceptions to rules when asked to practice by them, then you just might be considered proficient, according to Benner (1982). This is because you no longer practice by rules or formulas as you are using your experience as your guide. Therefore, as new instructors, we must remember that the student lacks the experience to practice without specific guidelines, which we must provide. Teaching students requires the instructor to break down a procedure or observation to the basics or into specific steps. Additionally, instructors will need to guide students in thinking through a situation—whereas, an expert is now practicing by intuition (professional experience intuition) (Benner, 1982). The novice nursing student asks for the steps and often demands to know a definitive answer---and as experts--we know---it depends upon the variables of the real situation.

I recommend that you read Benner’s article to get a deeper understanding as it will help you to understand yourself as you make this transition from clinical expert to a clinical nursing instructor, as well as, student behavior.

(Cochise College 1st Semester Skills Lab Group/Knowles.S.K. 2013)

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


Want to learn more about teaching as a clinical nursing instructor?  Check out the website:  I discuss this and more in module #1 of the Clinical Nursing Instructor Prep Course.

Listen to Dr. Benner explain today's method of nursing education/learning from her research found here

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