How to Become a Research Nurse

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Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Research nurse using a tablet

Do you enjoy combing through data for insights? Are you curious about how evidence-based practices are developed? You might make a great nurse researcher. These specialists work behind the scenes of patient care to improve outcomes and develop new standards. If you’re interested in a non-bedside nursing position, you might be curious to learn how to become a research nurse.

If you’ve ever wondered how vaccines are developed or how nursing practice theories are tested, it’s partly due to the work of research nurses. This is the importance of nursing research — developing study frameworks, evaluating potential participants, and analyzing data are all essential parts of this role. If you’re wondering, What is it like to be a research nurse?, here’s what to know about this field.

What Is a Research Nurse and What Does a Research Nurse Do?

Research nurses are part of clinical research teams that conduct experiments to improve the quality of nursing and the patient experience. They might explore topics such as how nurse staffing ratios impact patient mortality in long-term care facilities, the impact of radiation exposure on oncology nurses, or the likelihood of physical injury to nurses across many settings.

Daily tasks of a research nurse might include:

  • Acting as liaisons and advocates for patients participating in trials
  • Data collection
  • Preparing medications and other tools used in the experiment
  • Administering experimental medications or treatments
  • Monitoring for side effects
  • Documentation
  • Applying for grants to fund the research
  • Contributing articles to research journals

Research nurses can work in a variety of settings that include:

  • Government agencies
  • Teaching hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Medical manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Academics

How to Become a Research Nurse: 4 Steps

Step 1: Go to Nursing School

Any nursing role starts with education. In the case of research nursing, a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) is the gold-standard degree. A BSN program will help you learn the basic skills of clinical nursing, like inserting IVs, assessing patients, and developing critical thinking skills. You’ll also learn about research ethics, data synthesis, and leadership.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

Once you’ve graduated from nursing school, you qualify to take the National Council Licensure exam for registered nurses — the NCLEX-RN. This test is designed to evaluate your readiness to practice as an entry-level nurse. Once you pass, you’re ready to begin your career in clinical practice. Learn more about studying for the new NCLEX.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Working in a clinical setting will help you gain critical thinking and clinical skills. Many new graduate nurses begin their careers in an acute care setting, such as med-surg. Research roles typically require a few years of nursing experience, and this is a great time to gain additional training, attend courses in clinical research, or earn an entry-level certification.

Research nurses tend to choose a specific area of focus, so gaining experience in the specialty you’d like to research could be helpful. Specialized clinical research areas include:

Step 4: Enter Research Nursing

Once you’ve gained some experience, you can start applying for roles in clinical nursing research. One of the joys of nursing is the ongoing learning opportunities — you’re never done growing as a nurse. Earning additional certifications, joining professional organizations, and gaining additional degrees will also help you leverage higher pay and authority.

Research Nurse Certifications

Although certification isn’t necessary to become a research nurse, it may increase your job prospects by showing commitment to the field. They also advance your knowledge, and could make you a more confident clinician. Some research certifications are not unique to nurses but are for clinical researchers as a whole. Examples include:

  • Association of Clinical Research Professionals — Certified Professional (ACRP-CP)
  • Certified Clinical Research Associate (CCRA)
  • Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC)
  • American Board of Nursing Specialties — Clinical Research Nurse Certification (CRNCC)
  • Society of Clinical Research Associates — Clinical Research Professional (CCRP)

What Are Some Good Research Skills to Develop?

Honing these qualities will increase the odds of success on your path of how to become a research nurse:

Attention to detail: These nurses must closely monitor patients for any changes or side effects, pay attention to data trends, administer exact amounts of medication, and other tasks requiring close attention to detail to ensure the experiment is conducted safely.

Clear communication: Research nurses must ensure the test subjects are given informed consent, discuss findings with other members of the team, and convince potential donors to fund research projects. They may also be responsible for communicating orders such as labs or medications to the bedside nurse for study participants in the hospital. Many studies are time-sensitive, so nurse researchers must provide clear communication so orders are carried out appropriately.

Integrity: Honesty, responsibility, and reliability are some of the traits necessary to ensure ethics are upheld in clinical research. Even after a research trial is approved by an institutional review board (IRB), ethical concerns may arise. It’s the nurse’s responsibility to advocate for the patient’s rights as a human subject of research when needed.

Writing skills: Research nurses must write grants to fund their experiments, contribute to medical journals, and be able to clearly and accurately describe the experiment when presenting the research to those who would benefit from the findings.

Analytical thinking: They must think critically to find correlations between data, contribute to planning the research methodology, and be able to present the research in ways that are understandable to a variety of lay people.

Research Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, research nurses, also known as medical scientists, earn an average of $112,380 per year, and employment is projected to grow 10% over the next decade, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations.

Ready to Research?

Now that you know how to become a research nurse, you might be curious about current nursing roles in your area. Sign up for job notifications to discover specialty nursing jobs with IntelyCare.