Research is essential in developing innovative tools and techniques to be used in nursing practice. Nurse researchers design and implement scientific studies to discover new ways to improve health care services. It’s an important role that ultimately moves health care forward — and can also be financially rewarding, as reflected in the typical nurse researcher’s salary.
Understanding what nurse researchers do is important, but for those considering this career path, it’s equally important to know how to become a nurse researcher. Earning an advanced degree — such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or an — can equip graduates with the foundational knowledge and skills to conduct research that can lead to improved methods of patient care.
Ultimately, the work of nurse researchers can help health care organizations deliver care that improves patient outcomes.
What Does a Nurse Researcher Do?
Nurse researchers supply health care organizations with the actionable, evidence-based information they can use to improve the quality of health outcomes. Their work has the potential to significantly impact future trends in nursing practice, because their discoveries may be used to educate future generations of nurses. Their research findings can also be used to inform health policies at the local, regional, national, and international levels.
The history of nurse research goes back to Florence Nightingale, who was the first to analyze and recognize the correlation between unsanitary health care facilities and poor patient outcomes. This discovery, along with her other forms of health care-based advocacies (such as integrating statistical data into health care strategies), continues to define standards that govern health care today.
Because the work can carry such a game-changing impact in health care delivery, nursing research jobs are typically not entry-level positions. Producing valid research studies requires a thorough understanding of the nursing discipline and an extensive level of competence as a researcher.
Where Do Nurse Researchers Work?
A wide range of organizations are dedicated to promoting nursing research locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Work settings vary greatly, ranging from specialized research laboratories to health care facilities such as hospitals and medical clinics.
Nurse researchers may also work with universities, where they may tackle research from an academic perspective. The most experienced and qualified nurse researchers may have the opportunity to work for global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
Typical Job Duties for Research Nurses
Nurse researchers may be tasked with studying completely different aspects of nursing practice, depending on their individual expertise and places of employment. Some organizations concentrate on developing new and innovative medical procedures or developing new vaccines. Other organizations are focused on clinical nursing research studying patients who have volunteered for research studies.
In these situations, patient safety is of the utmost importance. Nurse researchers must also place a high priority on ensuring the accuracy of data collection and recording. These studies might involve administering investigational drugs, conducting experimental procedures, or assessing patients to characterize the cause of a particular disease.
Other common duties may include applying for grants to fund a clinical trial or research project and writing articles for various research journals.
With enough experience in the field, nurse researchers might qualify for promotion to coordinator positions. Research nurse coordinators direct research studies and manage data. One of their primary responsibilities is ensuring research activities follow procedures to maximize the validity of results. They also oversee studies to make sure all research practices comply with any applicable regulatory requirements.
Research nurse coordinators may work on collaborative projects with a physician in a clinical setting. They may also work with outside research facilities or with pharmaceutical companies.
Nurse Researcher Salary and Career Outlook
Nurse researchers work in highly specialized positions that require an advanced level of expertise. Because of this, they command higher salaries. The median annual nurse researcher salary was around $81,500, according to May 2022 data from the compensation data website PayScale.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects positions for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which may include nurse researchers, to grow 45% between 2020 and 2030. This is significantly greater than the 8% job growth the BLS projects for the nation’s job market as a whole.
There are several reasons for the high demand for nurse researchers and APRNs. The nation’s aging population is a key contributing factor, as the majority of the baby boomer generation will be 65 and older by 2030, which is expected to lead to an increased demand for health care services from this demographic.
Other key reasons for this high demand include the need to replace large numbers of nurses who are retiring or transitioning into other careers.
How Is Nurse Research Performed?
Evidence-based practice is imperative to achieving positive health care outcomes in medical institutions, and nurse researchers provide that evidence. Various health care organizations such as the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association cite four key steps that effectively guide the research process.
Ask the Question
Before beginning their research, nurse researchers must identify a specific problem that needs a solution. This directly feeds into the process of developing proposals to receive funding for research studies. PICO is an acronym that represents the elements researchers often consider when they’re forming the question they wish to research:
- Patient population of interest
- Intervention of interest
- Comparison of interest
- Outcome of interest
Some models add a “T” to the PICO acronym. In this case, “T” stands for time or time frame, which establishes the time interval of the outcome’s measurement. This is not considered a permanent addition to PICO, as some research projects are not contingent on setting a specific time frame.
After defining a question, nurse researchers must collect information to inform their investigation. The information could be derived from traditional sources, such as books or other publications, or it could be accessed through digital databases and libraries. When the information isn’t already available, nurse researchers may need to conduct studies that generate the data they are looking for.
Appraise the Evidence
After amassing data to work with, nurse researchers must evaluate it to validate its integrity. This involves reviewing it to determine if it is of a high enough quality to be credibly used as evidence in a nursing research study. This process is called grading the evidence, and students learn how to grade the strength of evidence on a variety of scales.
Make an Informed Decision
The nurse researcher must be able to formulate an informed decision based on the thorough evaluation of the evidence provided. They need to extract the data that directly applies to the research, consider the opinions and expertise of others in the field, and develop a path forward based on their decision. This step may involve metrics such as implementation feasibility and department or government protocols and policies.
Learn How to Become a Nurse Researcher
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a post-master’s certificate in nursing is the standard educational requirement for a nurse researcher role. These advanced programs can allow students to develop an interdisciplinary skill set that combines pathophysiology, pharmacology, disease prevention, advanced health assessment, and nurse leadership.
These programs also enable students to hone their expertise within a nursing specialty, such as pediatrics, adult-gerontology, family care, women’s health, and psychiatric mental health.
After earning their degrees, aspiring nurse practitioners should also consider pursuing the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) Certified Professional credential, which allows them to demonstrate to employers their ability to perform ethical and responsible clinical research. Earning additional credentials may potentially boost a nurse researcher’s salary as well.
Move the Concept of Health Care Forward
Nurse researchers form a supportive network that stimulates the forward progression of the nursing discipline. As Florence Nightingale’s seminal work proved, the ability to observe, analyze, and recommend changes in health care can have significant and lasting impacts that can reverberate throughout the industry. Although this nursing career path differs from those that focus on direct patient care, some may find it equally rewarding.
The Regis College online Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing can provide you with the educational foundation to contribute to dramatic innovations in care delivery. Our program can equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a career as a nurse researcher and affords you the chance to gain expertise in a wide range of health care specializations.
Learn how you can progress on your career path toward becoming a trusted leader in a vital field.