Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michael F. Burnett


The primary purpose of this study was to compare novice, experienced, and expert professional nurses in terms of their critical thinking ability. The study also sought to identify the influence of selected individual characteristics on the critical thinking ability of professional nurses. Three samples of professional nurses, representing three levels of experience and skill, were selected for use in this study. Subjects included a convenience sample of 38 novice nurses (graduating seniors in a generic baccalaureate nursing program), 42 randomly selected experienced nurses, and a purposive sample of 48 expert nurses recognized as exemplary by their peers. A three-part instrument was used for data collection. The instrument included the California Critical Thinking Skills Test, 1990 (CCTST), the Kolb Learning Style Inventory 1985 (LSI), and a researcher developed Participant Profile Form. Data were collected on-site and by mailed questionnaire for the novice sample, and by mailed questionnaire for the experienced and expert samples. After three mailings and a telephone contact, the useable response rates of those agreeing to participate in each group were: 84% for the novice group, and 96% each from the experienced and expert groups. Results of the study included: (a) a significant positive relationship for novice nurses in overall critical thinking ability (CCTST Overall Cognitive Skills) and cumulative academic grade point average (r =.37, p one-tail =.01); (b) significant differences between expert and novice nurses on the critical thinking subscale measure for Inductive Reasoning, F (2, 125) = 4.22, p =.02; (c) no significant differences between the expert and experienced nurses on any critical thinking measure. (d) No model was found explaining a significant portion of the variance in critical thinking ability when experience/skill level, learning style, and selected demographic factors were entered as independent variables into a multiple regression analysis. Regarding predominant learning styles, the novice and experienced nurses had a higher representation of the Assimilator style, and the experts had slightly more Accommodators than Assimilators. Chi-square analysis revealed no significant association between the variable of learning style and experience/skill level of the nurses. Recommendations included a longitudinal follow-up study, possibly incorporating qualitative measures, to elucidate the construct of critical thinking in expert performance.