Nursing Theories

Nursing Philosophy: Benner and Henderson

Main ideas

Dr. Benner is a celebrated nursing practitioner and lecturer who have conducted several researchers that continue to influence the nursing field. Her theory of nursing is anchored on education and experience. She postulates that a nurse increases in skills progressively in relation to the nature of his or her background information and the continuous practice of the career (Petiprin, 2016). This theory does not discuss the necessary steps to being a nurse but the qualities of a nurse that could be acquired practically without necessarily learning the theoretical aspect. Therefore, the theory borrows greatly from the works by Dreyfus brothers who proposed five stages one takes to be an expert from a novice.

Virginia Henderson, on the other hand, postulated the patient’s need theory. This theory emphasizes the need for nurses to help patients become more self-independent and capable of taking care of themselves as they leave the nursing facility. The theory holds that the nurse helps the patient, does some duties to the patient, and cooperates together with the patient to achieve a goal (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015).

Therefore, whereas Dr. Benner’s theory focuses on how to make a good nurse, Henderson’s theory majors on how the nurse can impart his usefulness to the patient by helping the patient become more independent.

Main Concepts

  1. Dr. Benner’s Five Major Levels

Dr. Benner’s theory has five major levels that a nurse has to go through in order to develop competency. These levels are the novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. The novice identifies student nurses who are still incapable of linking effect and cause or predict an outcome until after several encounters with similar scenarios. An advanced beginner is a nurse who is first time employed. Such nurses have the knowledge to link cause and effect or patterns in patient’s behaviors although not yet perfect (Petiprin, 2016). The third level, competent nurses, have acquired enough skills to guarantee reliable speed and commendable flexibility. They are capable of recognizing and responding to a situation beyond the level of advanced beginners. As a nurse goes through these levels successfully, he/she becomes proficient in the third level. A nurse in this level can recognize situations as whole rather than disintegrated parts of a whole problem (Petiprin, 2016). Finally, the nurse becomes an expert. Expert nurses have an in-depth experience. They have less reliance on rules and analytical tools and are capable of focusing on major problems and managing demands and resources (Petiprin, 2016). Dr. Benner’s theory proposes these five stages as a prerequisite for one to behave a completely developed experience. The stages are interconnected as one has to build on the previous experience.

  • Henderson’s fourteen components

Henderson’s theory of need establishes fourteen principles that are anchored on human needs. In a broad sense, the principles deal with meals, respiration, excretion, exercise, rest, faith, hygiene, socialization, adventure, and recreation. The theory insists that these aspects have to be exercised in a way that will promote healthy growth and development of the patients without being harmful to others. The nurse is charged with a responsibility of supervising the patient by taking the patient through these steps (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015). Henderson’s fourteen principles affect both the mind, spirit and the body of the patient. The approach focuses on providing a holistic recovery of the patient.


            The two theories are commonly applied in almost all nursing situations in a nursing environment. On Benner’s case, it is common knowledge that people become experts by practicing over time. In a nursing environment, someone becomes an expert by starting from the novice stage when he/she apply their knowledge from the class environment. As they grow to become registered nurses, nurse leaders, then department heads, and then facility leaders, the process signifies the perfect application of Benner’s theory in a nursing environment. Henderson’s theory is also a common occurrence is a nursing environment given that nurses are expected to display caring traits to the patients. Whether by design or default, nurses can only discharge their duties well if they understand the social and physical needs of their clients. This shows how both theories are applied every day.


Benner’s and Henderson’s theories are significant theories in the nursing field. While Benner’s theory provides for the development of a competent nurse, Henderson’s theory ensures that a competent nurse provides the necessary care to help the patient become independent.


Ahtisham, Y., & Jacoline, S. (2015). Integrating Nursing Theory and Process into Practice; Virginia’s Henderson Need Theory. International Journal of Caring Sciences8(2): 443-450.

Petiprin, A. 2016. Nursing theory. Nursing theorists. Retrieved May 21, 2018, from org/theories-and-models/from-novice-to-expert.php”>