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Nursing’s Role in Research


Nursing plays many roles in healthcare and the advancement of science. When most individuals think of a nurse, they pictures a bedside nurse in a hospital caring for a patient. This is an important role and a nursing shortage is reaching a critical point for the health in our communities. However, nurses engage in many roles, including policy development, management, education, and research. In research, nurses at the baccalaureate and masters level may serve as a research nurse, however nurses at the PhD level serve as nurse scientists. Sometimes our peers do not differentiate between these two roles. However, these roles are vastly different, although both are critical in our healthcare environment.

Dr. Wendy Likes

A research nurse’s role is complex and varied. Although not the principal investigator, ultimately responsible for the study, research nurses coordinate the day-to-day management of the study. These nurses should possess leadership skills and be adaptable and flexible to manage the various nuances of a study. Research nurses prepare trial protocols and other trial-related documents, submit study proposals to regulatory bodies, and coordinate the initiation, management, and completion of the research. Patient advocacy is the most important responsibility of the research nurse, emphasizing the protection, safety, and wellbeing of the study participants. Research nurses are vital for all clinical studies and can enable the institution to radically increase its research productivity.

In comparison, nurse scientists are doctoral – prepared, principal investigators, designing and implementing scientific studies on ways to improve health, health care services, and health care outcomes. Nurse Scientists use multiple philosophical and theory-based approaches as well as diverse methodologies. Nursing research focuses on the understanding and easement of the symptoms of acute and chronic illness; prevention or delayed onset of disease or disability, or slowing the progression thereof; finding effective approaches to achieve and sustain optimal health; and improvement of the clinical settings in which care is provided (National Institute of Nursing Research, 2003).

Few other scientists are interested in nursing practice and nursing practice is the majority of what occurs not only in the hospital but also in the community. Nursing science and the nurse scientist provides an important and unique contribution to health care and health policy. With the Affordable Care Act as a catalyst for developing new health care delivery and payment systems that improve outcomes and decrease costs, nursing science can play a key role in developing and evaluating interventions and healthcare models. Nurse Scientists are fundamentally well prepared for multidisciplinary scientific work. In a practice discipline such as nursing there is the added dimension of thoughtful and discriminating application of knowledge from other disciplines and perspectives (Carper, 1978).

As UTHSC continues to move towards the national call for multidisciplinary research teams, nurses scientist stand prepared and ready for the opportunity. Specifically, the UTHSC College of Nursing has been provided tremendous support and resources from the Chancellery to grow research. Over the past two years, the College of Nursing has hired four new nurse scientists dedicated to building their programs of research. We anticipate hiring an additional four to five more dedicated nurse scientists over the next two years, including an Associate Dean of Research. As we continue to grow our research portfolio in the College of Nursing, it is important to seek ways to streamline processes for nurse scientists to implement and conduct their studies and for nurse scientists to be recognized as principal investigators leading research studies.

-Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP, Dean, College of Nursing