Expertise in nursing has been widely studied although there have been no previous studies into what constitutes expertise in nephrology (renal) nursing. This paper, which is abstracted from a larger study into the acquisition and exercise of nephrology nursing expertise, provides evidence of the characteristics and practices of non-expert nephrology nurses. Using the grounded theory method, the study took place in one renal unit in New South Wales, Australia, and involved six non-expert and 11 expert nurses. Sampling was purposive then theoretical. Simultaneous data collection and analysis using participant observation, review of nursing documentation and semistructured interviews was undertaken. The study revealed a three-stage skills-acquisitive process that was identified as non-expert, experienced non-expert and expert stages. Non-expert nurses showed superficial nephrology nursing knowledge and limited experience; they were acquiring basic nephrology nursing skills and possessed a narrow focus of practice.