What does a Nurse Researcher do?

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  • Originally Written By: Erin Oxendine
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2018
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Nurse researchers do a lot of different things depending on the specifics of their job settings and individual situations, but in general all of their work centers on analyzing data, collecting and studying biological samples, and writing up findings. Most people start out as more generalized practicing nurses, then choose research as a specialty. It’s also sometimes possible to start on a research track directly out of nursing school. People in this line of work rarely treat patients the way others in the profession do, though they frequently interact with patients, usually to study their care or to collect samples. The specifics are usually driven by the subject area. Researchers usually choose a single area of focus, from the very broad, like pediatric care, to something as narrow as the treatment of arthritis in the knees. Some also teach research methods in academic settings. Though the day-to-day tasks vary between specialties, the core goals usually remain about the same.

Focus Areas

Many different places employ these sorts of professionals. Some schools may use a researcher as a nurse educator, while other facilities may have a need for someone to perform clinical trials. Many hospitals and scientific companies also use them, sometimes to conduct experiments in a laboratory-type setting. Researchers sometimes also find themselves analyzing medical data for companies.


Patient Interactions

One of the biggest differences between nurses who are focused on research and those who are focused on primary care is patient interactions. Whereas more general nurses spend a lot of time working directly with individuals needing treatment, researchers tend to take a much more “backseat” role. They are usually trained to provide care, but in most instances they use that training as a means of understanding and assessing what’s going on rather than actually getting involved personally.

Researchers come up with questions to ask ill people to help discern their symptoms, for instance, or may interview family members about a patient’s condition and general level of care. It’s also common for nurses in these sorts of positions to spend a lot of time analyzing patient charts and talking with the doctors and nurses who are actually providing the care to learn about what’s being done, what isn’t, and possibly also what could be improved.

Lab-Based Research

As the job title suggests, nurse researchers spend a lot of time actually doing research which, in a scientific setting, often means that they’re spending a lot of time in a lab studying samples and collecting results. This is particularly true of researchers who are studying a particular condition. These sorts of nurses often spend a lot of time running tests on samples or evaluating cultures under a microscope in order to get a better grasp on what’s happening and to draw conclusions from those findings.

Writing and Analysis

Most researchers also formally summarize their findings and create reports. This is particularly true of people who are employed by hospital research organizations or pharmaceutical companies, both of which depend on succinct summaries of findings in order to make improvements and design changes. Other tasks may include writing medical articles or helping with grant proposals.

Getting Started in This Job

In order to become a nurse researcher, a person usually needs a four-year nursing degree. In the United States as well as many other countries, an advanced degree is often preferred, and in most cases, the candidate for this position would also need to obtain a current nursing license. The majority of nursing programs include research classes.

Other qualifications a researcher may need are the ability to think fast and to be able to do several things at once. This position might also entail the researcher to work close with faculty, doctors, and staff. Being able to work well with others is usually seen as a valued skill.

A nursing profession is a good choice for those who desire to make a difference. Both analytical and laboratory skills are important aspects of this job. Individuals considering a career in nursing research may want to first talk with others in the profession to learn about the day-to-day demands and responsibilities.


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Discuss this Article

Post 3

@browncoat - Well, that's the job though. I mean, either they are qualified to do it or they aren't. And most trials are double-blind now so the nurse won't have any control or knowledge of who is getting placebo and who isn't. Nurses fresh from university are often more passionate and have new ideas which is good.

But, I don't think most nursing research is trials anyway. I'd imagine the foundations of nursing research lie more in observation and gathering statistics than anything and aside from knowing the information gathering techniques that's not that different from standard nursing.

Post 2

This is the kind of role you'd want experienced nurses to participate in rather than those fresh out of university. Research is often even more difficult than standard nursing because it often involves people who are desperate for cures and who know you might be giving them a placebo. I can't even imagine the pressure that would put on a young nurse.

Post 1

This article is discussing the role of a research nurse rather than a nurse researcher. Though both are in research, the roles, educational preparation are different. This author needs to do further research on the topic. A nurse researcher is doctorally prepared (Phd) and is the principal investigator in the study.

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