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Nurse Researcher: A career, not just a job


For me, nursing has never been a “punch-the-time-clock” job; it’s a profession. Early on, I decided to always keep my career interesting. There are many ways to do this; I did it by choosing a career in nursing research. What nursing research is all about You may be wondering, “What exactly is nursing research?” Simply put, nursing research is the disciplined clinical inquiry into issues that concern nurses, patients, and the healthcare team. Nurse researchers study the process and outcomes of care. For example, in our hospital, nurses in the intensive care units wanted to determine the best way to control patients’ blood glucose levels. Everyone agrees that controlling the blood glucose level is the best practice, but they don’t all agree on how to do it safely and effectively. To provide evidence for the best way to accomplish glycemic control, we’ve undertaken a nursing-led multidisciplinary study to determine the effects of our processes, protocols, and nursing workload on glycemic control. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), healthcare providers must strive to use best practices to provide care that is safe, effective, and efficient. To determine what the best practices are, we need evidence. And evidence comes from three basic sources—the best research evidence, clinical expertise, and patient preferences. What does a director of nursing research do? Over the past decade, evidence-based practice has become increasingly important. But many currently practicing nurses didn’t learn about this concept in nursing school. And the hectic day-to-day practice of nursing leaves little time for them to learn how to evaluate evidence. That’s where the director of nursing research comes in. I directly support nurses at all levels of the organization by helping them with literature reviews, evaluation of evidence, and translation of evidence into practice. I also work with them to conduct performance improvement projects or to design and conduct original research studies. Job requirements A director of nursing research must have a passion for research, a love of solving puzzles, a “stick-to-it” attitude, and a solid knowledge of the research process. You should have at least a master’s degree with experience in research; better yet, a doctorate with experience as principal investigator in your own research. In acute care settings, it helps to have experience in quantitative outcomes research, qualitative research, and statistical analysis. Also, you must be comfortable writing and presenting information so you can help the staff publish and disseminate research findings. If you’re considering a career in nursing research, get involved in research studies as early as possible. Even collecting data for someone else’s study provides valuable knowledge and experience that will help guide your later studies. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts at nursing research are flawed—that’s how we all learn. If you’re still in nursing school and face the choice of doing either a “project” or a research study, always choose the research study. And by all means, pay close attention in the dreaded statistics class; statistic courses have a huge learning curve but are lots of fun once you “get it.” The future of nursing research The IOM has proposed six goals for the 21st-century healthcare system—safety, effectiveness, patient-centered care, timeliness of care, efficiency, and equitable care. Nurses are well positioned to influence these goals, and we need research to demonstrate the outcomes. If you’re self-directed, creative, and up for a challenge, nurse researcher is the career for you. Go forth, nurse researchers. You are pioneers and have a real opportunity to make a difference in health care. Visit www.AmericanNurseToday.com/journal for a list of selected references. Cheryl Dumont is Director of Nursing Research at Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Va.

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