How to Become a Nurse Researcher

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Doctor of Nursing Practice

Two nurses wearing white lab coats and holding clip boards, smiling.Clinical protocols are advancing and improving all the time, creating new opportunities for health care providers to deliver more efficient, effective care, all while reducing the risks of complications and side effects. These innovations don’t come about by accident, but rather through the concentrated efforts of clinical researchers, who are meticulous in testing different surgical procedures, pharmaceuticals, and patient care protocols.

Nursing professionals play an essential role in facilitating this research. Not only do nurse researchers help manage and coordinate research projects, but they also care for the patients who are involved, ensuring their comfort and safety throughout the process. Those who are passionate about patient care but also interested in participating in clinical research may find this to be a rewarding field. The path to becoming a nurse researcher typically involves several key steps, including the completion of advanced academic training.

What Is a Nurse Researcher?

A nurse researcher is a nursing professional who works with different clinical research projects and experiments, preparing patients for their involvement while also monitoring their condition and providing any needed treatments. The primary role of the nurse researcher is to promote the safety and comfort of patients who volunteer for pharmaceutical trials or other forms of clinical research.

Nurse Researcher Job Description

The duties and responsibilities of a nurse researcher may vary based on where they work or the type of research project they’re involved in, but some of the most common duties include:

  • Conducting health screenings to ensure trial participants are good candidates for the project
  • Preparing and administering different medications, including IV drips
  • Monitoring patient vital signs and performing diagnostic tests
  • Ensuring compliance with the project’s stated patient safety protocols
  • Intervening with emergency care as needed

Nurse Researcher Work Environment

Most nurse researchers work in either laboratory or office settings. These facilities may be based at a research hospital, a university, or even a company that manufactures pharmaceuticals or medical devices.

How to Become a Nurse Researcher

Several steps are required to become a nurse researcher, beginning with the appropriate education.

1. Earn an Undergraduate Nursing Degree

In order to succeed as a nurse researcher, it’s vital to develop foundational skills in patient diagnostics and patient care. Earning a four-year nursing degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), provides this foundation, while also making it possible to sit for licensure exams and to one day pursue a more advanced nursing degree.

2. Become Licensed

Following the completion of an undergraduate nursing degree, the next step is to take the licensure exam, which is administered at the state level. Passing this exam requires a demonstration of basic patient care skills as well as an understanding of medical ethics. Being licensed allows a nurse to begin practicing as a registered nurse (RN).

3. Gain Experience

Before pursuing a nurse research role, it’s important to get plenty of experience caring for patients and doing hands-on work in different departments of a hospital or medical practice. Requesting to work with a medical trial, even in a very basic capacity, can also provide a meaningful experience.

4. Obtain an Advanced Degree

Some nurse research professionals may wish to pursue a more advanced degree, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which can lead to positions of greater leadership and responsibility and potentially higher earnings.

5. Earn Certification

Professional organizations such as the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and the Society of Clinical Research Associates offer different certifications, which can help signify a high level of skill and knowledge. Though not always required, earning a certification can help job seekers stand out to prospective employers.

Nurse Researcher Salary and Job Outlook

Because of the vital nature of their work and the advanced training it requires, nurse researchers are generally well-compensated. According to Payscale data from March 2023, the median annual salary for a nurse researcher was approximately $82,000.

A number of factors can affect this salary range, including years of experience, level of education, certification, and location.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a high level of job growth for this profession, noting that medical scientists (a comparable role) have a projected employment growth rate of 17% between 2021 and 2031. Greater demand for a variety of health care services, increasing rates of chronic disease, and growing interest in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s and cancer will drive much of this growth.

Play a Role in Relevant Research

Clinical research is vitally important, leading to safer treatments and improved outcomes for patients across the world. Nurses, especially those with advanced degrees, can play a significant role in facilitating this research and caring for the patients involved. One way to get involved with clinical research is to pursue an advanced nursing education, such as the online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Regis College, which is geared toward helping nursing professionals advance to new career heights.

Find out more about the Regis College online BSN to DNP program today.

Recommended Readings

How a DNP Can Prepare You for Nursing Advocacy

Is a DNP Worth It?

5 Leadership Styles in Nursing


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Research

Indeed, “How to Become a Research Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide”

Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Clinical Research: What Is It?”

Oncology Nursing Society, “Nursing Roles in Clinical Trials”

Payscale, Average Nurse Researcher Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Scientists