An Evaluation of the Seminal Work of Patricia Benner


In her article, Altmann (2007) focuses on analyzing Patricia Benner’s influential article “From novice to expert” with the aim of defending its philosophical, rather than theoretical, character. Altmann explains that her purpose is not to diminish the significance of Benner’s work, which is extensively applied in all spheres of work connected with nursing, but to illustrate how particularly helpful its philosophical aspect is (Altmann, 2007).

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Altmann’s Summary of Benner’s Article

At the beginning of her article, Altmann presents a summary of Benner’s work. The article “From novice to expert” was inspired by a grant “Achieving methods of interprofessional consensus, assessment and evaluation project (the AMICAE Project),” which was designed and implemented by Benner. The project induced the application of Dreyfus’ five competency steps characterizing the process of obtaining the skills by nurses (Altmann, 2007). According to Benner, Dreyfus’ framework suggested a differentiation between what can be instructed by doctrine and what should be studied by experience. Benner considered that experienced pattern perception could be taught and could gradually improve through the steps (Altmann, 2007). According to Altmann, Benner emphasized the importance of evaluating the situation as a whole and not dividing it into separate segments.

Philosophical Foundation of Benner’s Paper

Altmann remarks that Benner’s position focuses on the divergences in academic and practical intelligence. She notices that the core assumption of Benner’s philosophy is the belief in the equal significance of knowledge and expertise for the successful transfer of the skills to a higher degree. Other essential foundations of Benner’s philosophy, as noted by Altmann, are the links between the intrinsic and extrinsic effects.

The author remarks that while Benner’s idea was castigated for involving qualitative rather than quantitative methods, her philosophical opinions confronted the established concept of the objective scientific system. Altmann considers Benner’s work to include Heideggerian, holistic, and hermeneutic approaches (Altmann, 2007). She justifies Benner’s choice of qualitative research as this type of analysis is basic in finding out how the skills are studied. However, Altmann admits that out of four ways of knowing suggested by Carper Benner scrutinizes only two. Carper differentiated between ethical, empirical, aesthetic, and personal types of knowing, while Benner paid attention to just two of them: personal and ethical (Altmann, 2007).

Benner’s Interpretation Processes

Analyzing Benner’s reasoning, Altmann concludes that the scholar applied an inductive approach to her model. This kind of reasoning proceeds from concrete studies to extensive interpretations. As noticed by Altmann, Benner identified thirty-one analytically delineated skills and organized them into seven spheres of nursing (Altmann, 2007). The author remarks that while Benner did not set a goal to verify Dreyfus’ model, she confirmed his framework in the course of her research.

Grounds for Considering Benner’s Work as a Philosophical rather than Theoretical one

Altmann points out that Benner’s article is considered as the one being slightly close to middle-range theory and associated with meta-theory, which is philosophical. Additionally, she provides examples of the scholarly papers whose authors think that Benner’s work is philosophical. Altmann explains the correspondence of Benner’s model to philosophy and not a theory by remarking that Benner’s study was built on personal stories. Since the narrations were not confirmed experimentally, the work cannot be considered theoretical (Altmann, 2007).


Altmann concludes that Benner’s model is a philosophical study of nursing. The scholar’s resolutions, according to Altmann, were taken from personal interviews, knowledge, and investigations. The main features of Benner’s study indicating to its philosophical character are the employment of practical interpretation, investigation of the facts determining the reality, and suggestion of the instructions for framing the nursing practice (Altmann, 2007).

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Altmann, T. K. (2007). An evaluation of the seminal work of Patricia Benner: theory or philosophy? Contemporary Nurse, 25(1-2), 114-23.

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