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Role of Research in Nursing

Research is the foundation for breakthroughs in science, technology and medicine. Cars, planes, computers and organ transplants are the result of scientific inquiry and ingenuity. Researchers such as Virginia Apgar, Charles Drew, Walter Reed, Jonas Salk and Elizabeth Stern have all made significant medical discoveries. Because nurses work directly with patients, they have an opportunity to collect information and determine if it is useful to furthering improvements in healthcare.

Why Is Research Important in Nursing?

Nurses use evidence garnered from research to make informed decisions about patient care. So research is imperative to evidence-based practice (EBP) in nursing. The goal of research in nursing is to reduce medical errors, reinforce safety, lower mortality rates, shape health policy and restore patients’ health. Nursing research focuses on these areas:

  • Providing optimal care to patients with long-term illnesses.
  • Developing ways to aid patients during recovery.
  • Promoting healthy lifestyles.
  • Preventing the spread of diseases.
  • Incorporating new techniques and treatments that increase a patient’s quality of life.

Research leads to changes in practices deemed outdated or harmful to patients. For example, the prevailing protocol some years ago was to place sleeping babies on their stomachs to keep them from choking in case they vomited. However, extensive research into sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) revealed that it is safer for babies to rest on their backs.

Nursing research is also necessary to address the healthcare needs of a growing aging population. People are living longer and with one or more chronic conditions. Nurses and healthcare professionals need to understand the care of older adults to help them manage their health conditions while maintaining independence and comfort.

How Can Nurses Contribute to Research?

Nurses apply research to their nursing practice but they can also be researchers. They have both clinical knowledge and hands-on experience. These two factors are helpful in determining the basis for beneficial research. Some nursing units may participate in research projects.

For instance, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at Cooper University Health System in Camden, New Jersey joined a voluntary collaborative on Improving Quality of Care and Communication in Intensive Care Units, which was sponsored by the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA). The result of the participation in the multidisciplinary research was the creation of the ICU Patient and Family Communication Bundle. The application of the best practices bundle aims to deliver high-quality end-of-life (EOL) care to patients in the ICU. Another result of the bundle is improvements in patient outcomes.

Can Nurses Have a Career in Research?

Nurse researchers are scientists who conduct research, which registered nurses (RN) apply in EBP. They study patient health, procedures and policy to look for ways to improve healthcare and outcomes. Their process includes:

  • Forming a research question.
  • Designing and conducting scientific studies.
  • Collecting data.
  • Analyzing information.
  • Reporting findings.

What Do Nurses Need to Know About Research?

Nurses should be research-literate. They need to know how to locate research that pertains to their question or requirement for the delivery of quality patient care. Once nurses discover relevant research, they need to read and comprehend it in order to apply it to their nursing practice.

Being discerning about the research they use involves being able to verify the soundness of the studies. Skilled nurses look critically at research and filter the information before using it. They ask themselves these questions:

  • What is the researcher’s methodology?
  • Are there flaws in the collection of samples or the setup of the study?
  • Did the researcher use an unreliable tool?

As part of their nursing practice, nurses theorize, hypothesize and gather evidence daily through their interactions with patients. That is why nurses are indispensable to creating valuable research for EBP.

If you are considering becoming a nurse researcher, you need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. You can start with an online RN to BSN program. After you have received your license to practice as an RN and obtained your BSN, you need to acquire a few years of nursing experience. Then you can go on to earn a graduate degree and begin your career as a nurse researcher.

Learn more about the Fitchburg State online RN to BS in Nursing program.


Elsevier: Yes, Nurses Do Research, and It’s Improving Patient Care Beyond the Bedside: Why Nursing Research Is Important

American Nurse Today: Reading and Critiquing a Research Article

American Nurse Today: Reaping the Unexpected Benefits of Nursing Research Nurse Researcher

Research Info: Nursing Research

Cleveland Clinic: Research Literacy: A Skill All Nurses Should Possess

American Journal of Nursing: Research in Nursing Practice

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