The Role of the Nurse Scientist in Health Care

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Nurse scientist working in the laboratory

Nurses are not just caregivers or assistants in clinical settings. Though those roles are important, nurses are also in a position to be groundbreaking researchers, scientists, and innovators in the field of health care.

Nurse scientists actively research the nature of illnesses, treatment solutions, and the effects of medical technologies that aim to improve the lives of patients and impact the future of health care. “Yes, nurses do research,” Dr. Nancy Blake, nursing director for critical care services at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, writes for Elsevier, a leader in global business analytics. “With their knowledge and hands-on experience, nurses can theorize, hypothesize, structure studies, and collect evidence that leads to better care. The goal of nursing research is to achieve better care standards and applications for patients and families.”

Nurses in these leadership roles benefit from research-based education and experience, which can be gained through an advanced degree program, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice. These programs provide medical professionals with the skills to conduct research and lead teams of nurses toward making new discoveries.

This article provides an in-depth look at the responsibilities of the role and how nurse scientists can play a leading part in the future of health care.

What Does a Nurse Scientist Do?

Nurse scientists collect, analyze, and interpret data to create more efficient and effective health care strategies. Nurse scientists in hospitals have contributed to decreased numbers of infections, shorter lengths of stay, and more informed patients who can better care for themselves upon returning home.

Nurse scientist and practitioner Nalo Hamilton, for example, studies the risk of developing breast cancer among certain ethnic groups of younger women. She hopes her research will help medical professionals develop more effective therapies that target breast cancer cells in aggressive cases. Another nurse scientist, Dr. Karen Gylys, studies postmortem brain tissues from neuropathology labs to better understand how Alzheimer’s disease develops in the synapses of the brain.

Nurses can also partner with scientists in other departments and medical settings to share data, build solutions to complex issues, and even improve equipment. Dr. Blake, for example, has worked with biomedical engineers to design devices that help nurses streamline their workflow.
As the field of nursing science grows, practitioners can lead and inspire other medical professionals to take a more hands-on approach to data collection and patient research by publishing papers, speaking at conferences, and mentoring teams of nurses.

Nurse Scientists as Health Care Leaders

Prospective nurse scientists must develop advanced leadership acumen, along with core competencies such as research and analytical skills, to implement strategies that can impact health care. Regis College’s online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) curriculum is designed to prepare nurses with master’s degrees to confidently pursue key leadership positions in health care by helping them develop the knowledge and skills to move care delivery forward in the 21st century.

In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has called for a doctoral education to “become the requirement for advanced practice nursing.” A 2016 study published by Nursing Outlook found that nurses with DNPs typically take on “high-level leadership roles in large health care organizations.” Even those in more administrative roles impressed employers with their “broader perspectives and policy backgrounds.”

Regis College’s MSN to DNP program uses cutting-edge technology and industry-active faculty to enhance students’ knowledge of research methods, policies and procedures, and patient care. Core courses in this program include Epidemiology/Biostatistics, Advanced Research Methods for Evidence-Based Practice, and Informatics in Healthcare. The curriculum helps students develop the skills and knowledge for building their own medical studies, expanding on existing areas of research, and preparing for the future of nursing science and health care.

For current nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse educators, earning a DNP is essential to career advancement and meeting the rising demand of a growing field.

Trends in Nursing Science

Evolving trends such as big data, evidence-based practice, and patient self-care are poised to change the health care landscape for years to come. Nurse scientists can utilize these trends in their own practices to revolutionize patient care and impact the future of care delivery.

Electronic health records (EHRs), for example, facilitate data sharing between medical facilities. Nurses can help analyze and document effective strategies for patient confidentiality and information access. Meanwhile, mobile health care is advancing with wearable technologies and smartphone applications. Nurses can help train patients to monitor and manage their own health data and developments.

Nurse scientists can also have an impact on the universal issue of health care access. According to International Perspectives, “Nurse researchers must be involved in studying the nursing workforce as a return on investment rather than a recurring cost in health care. Nurses must define our role in health care and what we do. … These are key areas of research that are of global importance.”

Leading a New Generation of Nurse Scientists

As health care continues to evolve, nurse leaders are needed to shape future policies and build more effective strategies for patient care. Regis College’s online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice can help students prepare for these vital leadership opportunities. Whether students want to become nurse scientists, nurse educators, or nurse practitioners, this comprehensive online program empowers working professionals to advance their careers.

Explore what Regis College has to offer, and train to become an agent of change for the health care industry today.

Recommended Readings

What Kind of Nurse Should I Be? Examining Advanced Practice Nursing Paths
ANCC vs AANP: Understanding the Benefits of Certifications
What Are Some of the Best MSN Careers in the Nursing Field?


Elsevier, “Yes, Nurses Do Research, and It’s Improving Patient Care”
International Perspectives, “Trends in US Nursing Research: Links to Global Healthcare Issues”
Lippincott Solutions, “Who Are Nurse Scientists?”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Developing and Sustaining a Career as a Transdisciplinary Nurse Scientist”
Nursing Outlook, “The Role of Doctor of Nursing Practice-Prepared Nurses in Practice Settings”
Regis College, Online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice 
Scientific American, “Nurses are Caretakers, Not Scientists, Right? Wrong”