Skilled expert practice: is it ‘all in the mind’? A response to English's critique of Benner's novice to expert model


  • Philip Darbyshire RNMH RSCN DipN RNT MN PhD

    1. Lecturer in Health and Nursing Studies, Glasgow Caledonian University, City Campus, Glasgow G4 OBA, Scotland
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In a recent critique of the work of Patricia Benner in relation to expertise, skilled intuitive grasp and the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, English (Journal of Advanced Nursing 1993, vol. 18, pp. 387-393) uses the tenets of positivism and cognitive psychology to criticize Benner's work for lacking objectivity, validity, generalizability and predictive power. In this response to English's critique I show how he has misread, failed to read, and consequently misunderstood her work, and, equally importantly, its philosophical basis. Benner's work is developed from a philosophical foundation grounded in interpretive and Heideggerian phenomenology. This wholly different ‘take’ on the world and on human behaviour embodies a strong critique of those very same traditional-science worldviews which English uses to damn her work. English's critique is valuable in highlighting the ways in which Benner's work can be misrepresented and this response tries to remedy this misunderstanding by attempting to clarify the fundamental differences between phenomenological and cognitive understandings. These differences are crucial to understanding Dreyfus's and Benneis work. Here, I also attempt to correct some of English's wilder assertions regarding Benner's work. Finally, I try to show how Benner's work has empowered, enthused and challenged, rather than being ‘denigrating to the majority of nurses’.