From the desk of Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, April 1, 2011

Editor's note: This feature is written by nursing staff development expert Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN. Each week, Adrianne writes about an important issue in the area of staff development or answers reader questions. If you have a question for Adrianne, e-mail her at

The role of the novice in staff development: We all need to start somewhere

Differentiating among the various levels of expertise of clinical nurses was a ground-breaking study conducted by Benner (1984). I propose that we need the same differentiation among those who practice in the field of staff development.

According to Benner, a novice is a beginning practitioner with no experience of the situations in which he or she is expected to perform. Benner equates this with a student role. In staff development, however, I define novice as someone who is interested in, and displays an aptitude for staff development, but has no experience in the specialty (Avillion, 2011). A novice may have extensive experience as a clinician but still be a novice in staff development. We need to be able to recognize and nurture novices. They are truly the future of our specialty.

How do we recognize novices? Let's look at some markers for the identification of candidates for the role of novice (Avillion, 2011):

  • Is the candidate a preceptor? If so, did he or she assume this role voluntarily or was it mandated? How did the candidate respond to preceptor training? Was he or she truly interested in making a difference in the organization? As a preceptor, does the novice candidate demonstrate a desire to help new colleagues successfully complete orientation? What is the rate of turnover and retention for orientees who work with the novice candidate?
  • Does the candidate's performance evaluation indicate that he or she is helping to train and assist colleagues? Does the novice candidate excel at patient education, staff training, or both? Has he or she identified the pursuit of a staff development role as part of a career plan?
  • Does the candidate's behavior indicate a pursuit of opportunities to become involved in staff training? Has he or she volunteered to assist with unit inservices and just-in-time training? Has the candidate asked you or other members of the staff development department about the role of an educator? Does he or she seem genuinely interested in the pursuit of staff development as a career?

Analyzing the answers to these questions will help you identify the candidates that are really interested in the pursuit of a staff development career. These are the individuals you want to encourage and nurture. These are the individuals who will bring new ideas and add to the body of knowledge that is staff development.

Avillion, A. E. (2011). Professional Growth in Staff Development: Strategies for New and Experienced Educators. Danvers, MA: HCPro.
Benner, P. (1984). From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.

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