News Releases

Dr. Patricia Benner Outlines Strategies to Deepen Nurses' Skills and Knowledge

September 24, 2010

More than 500 people - the largest audience ever to attend a lecture at the School of Nursing - gathered Sept. 23 to hear nursing's pre-eminent educator and theorist present strategies that will radically reshape the way the nation's nurses are taught.

Patricia Benner, PhD, RN, FAAN, offered findings and recommendations from the National Nursing Education Study, the first of its kind in more than 30 years, recently released by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It revealed a need to update the content and process for educating nurses to keep pace with advances in science, technology, and clinical practice.

The study lauded nursing for strong clinical learning and for being very effective in helping students develop a sense of professional identity. However, "the classroom is in really bad shape," said Benner, director of the research project. She said Carnegie found "uneven and inadequate teaching, evidence-based literature searching and questioning weak, too much teaching of testing strategy, and almost no interdisciplinary teaching."

As a result, she said, the project recommends what she called "a major shift in nursing education from abstract theoretical classroom teaching to teaching for a sense of salience." By focusing on the relevancy of the content and contextualizing it, she said, "students are absolutely engaged because they know they are rehearsing for their practice."

Janet D. Allan, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the School, invited the prestigious educator to deliver the 2010 Millicent Geare Edmunds Lecture, during which Benner explored the Carnegie findings and curricular changes to realize them.

In welcoming her to the podium, the dean described the study as a "wake-up call" that will revitalize the approach of nursing schools to ensure their graduates are well equipped.

"Funding for scientific research has been available for nursing, which has allowed us to make great strides on that front," said Dean Allan. "But few grants exist for pedagogical research, which makes us particularly grateful to Carnegie for funding this study. We clearly have some work to do."

Benner said the Carnegie researchers conducted their inquiries of nursing and medicine in dialog with one another as part of an overall examination of education in several professions, including engineering and the clergy.

She counseled nursing educators to pay greater heed to their students' "formation and ethical comportment." Formation refers to the methods by which a person is prepared for a particular task. To better mold nurses, she recommended the "unfolding case study" as a productive way of teaching.

Benner, professor emerita at the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing, is co-author of a book on the Carnegie report, Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation, released in December 2009.

She is also the author of Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Nursing Practice.

Allan said of that ground-breaking book, published 25 years ago: "It has deepened our understanding of what nursing is by giving us a way to describe it."

For more information, contact Patricia Adams, 410-706-4115 or