Step to Becoming a Nurse Researcher

NursingApril 13, 2017

Among the many career opportunities open to qualified nurses, nurse researcher is a less common, but nevertheless exciting, option. Becoming a nurse researcher generally requires, at a minimum, a BSN. If you have enrolled in an online RN to BSN program, you are already on the proper path towards a potential career in this particular nursing sub-specialty. If you are presently a nurse with an associate degree, you will want to consider pursuing your RN to BSN first. However, many employers are now looking for nurses with masters or even doctorate level degrees.

What is a Nurse Researcher?

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. What, exactly, does a nurse researcher do? Many of the important advances in medicine and pharmaceuticals can be traced back to carefully designed research. These nurses work in hospitals, clinics, and private laboratories, and are often responsible for designing and implementing their own study protocols. They may glean data from pre-existing databases, or generate entirely new data. Some large, long-term ongoing studies, for example, generate mountains of raw data. It is up to researchers, in many instances, to mine this data for new insights, by focusing on new questions not specifically addressed by the original study’s design protocol.

One fitting example of this is the Nurses’ Health Study (and the Nurses’ Health Study II and III). These ongoing studies (the original is a 40-year study) have enrolled tens of thousands of working female nurses, in an effort to gather massive amounts of data related to lifestyle, illness, disease risk and longevity, among other parameters. The most recent version is looking at issues surrounding fertility, pregnancy and reproductive health, among other things. Since they feature decades of follow-up within a specific group of professionals, it is possible to use various aspects of the data collected to examine questions about human health and disease.

Research Contributes to Everyone’s Welfare

Presumably, conclusions can be extrapolated to answer questions about women’s health in general. The original study has yielded important information that has influenced everything from dietary guidelines, to best practices in various aspects of medicine. Although the original study design focused on cancer and cardiovascular disease risk factors, the scope of the study has long since expanded to include many other aspects of women’s health.  

Although it is possible to leverage your associate degree in nursing and advance to a research position, doing so will require successful completion of an RN to BSN program first. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is the minimal requirement for even entry-level positions in this competitive field. Most positions, however, will require a graduate level degree (e.g. MSN) or even a doctorate, such as a Ph.D. in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Please note that many graduate level programs require you to possess at least a 3.0 GPA as a minimal requirement for acceptance.

The Path Forward

Assuming you have the grades and the determination to pursue the additional education required, what will you be required to study in order to become a nurse researcher? In addition to your RN license (obtained by successfully completing the NCLEX-RN examination), you will need to be accepted into a graduate program, where you will focus on advanced training in areas such as informatics, statistics, data collection, study design, and more advanced medical terminology.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for qualified nurses to fill anticipated nurse researcher positions is expected to grow by about 19% within the next five years. This rate of growth exceeds that of many other specialties or industries. Anticipated pay for nurses fulfilling these roles is generally in the range of the upper five figures, but pay varies widely, depending on location, institution, the level of responsibility and experience, etc.