By Ann Mooney, MSN, RN, CNN, Senior Director of Clinical Operations, Frenova Renal Research
Nurses are ideal clinical researchers. They have qualities that make them valuable at a variety of professional research roles, from study coordinator to principal investigator.
In clinical trials involving patients with complex medical diseases such as chronic kidney disease or cancer, nursing skills are especially useful. Nurses are trained on how to interact with, evaluate and appropriately care for, patients. They are familiar with complex medical regimes and are comfortable talking with and educating patients. The ability to follow a protocol and read a medical record and to accurately record pertinent data make them a perfect fit for clinical research.
The clinical knowledge that a nurse brings to a study is more expansive and ultimately more valuable than the effort required to learn the principles of research. If forced to choose between a candidate who does not have a clinical background but has research experience, or a nurse without research experience, I chose the latter every time. I would rather have a nurse who can provide critical thinking, clinical judgement, and an easy manner with patients than someone who has only learned the basics of good clinical practice and regulatory law.
There are several barriers that prevent nurses from entering clinical research, and the industry would benefit by addressing them. At the top of the list is finding ways to introduce nurses to some of the dramatic and exciting aspects of a research career, one in which they can play an important role bringing new treatments and therapies to patients who suffer from a variety of diseases and conditions around the world.
In nursing school, the context in which students are exposed to research is theoretical, not clinical. In many nursing settings, the exposure to clinical research is limited or non-existent. In academic institutions and teaching hospitals, research is a separate division, not integrated with other activities, so nurses don’t have the opportunity to interact with researchers or learn what clinical research is about.
To really impact the number of nurses in clinical research, the industry needs to proactively support outreach to nurses through education and certification.
Becoming a Nurse Researcher
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) led an international effort to define the specialty practice of clinical research nursing with the goal of creating a certification process. The NIH defined the scope of the clinical research nurse as including two nursing roles: clinical research nurse, which focuses on the care of the research participants, and research nurse coordinator, which is more concerned with study coordination and data management. Under NIH guidelines, clinical research nurses are responsible for coordinating clinical care, ensuring participant safety, overseeing informed consent, ensuring the integrity of protocol implementation, certifying accurate data collection and recording, and managing subject recruitment and enrollment.
Based on the NIH’s work, a number of certification programs have been launched and education programs defined.
Both the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) and the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA) have defined educational paths and developed a variety of certification programs for nurses to follow. Although nurses are in demand for study coordinator or research assistant roles, there is also opportunity for them at the upper end of the career ladder as a senior research nurse or as a principal or sub investigator. Typically, however, the education requirement for those aspiring to these positions will include an MSN in clinical trials research, clinical research administration or clinical research management, or a PhD in nursing science.
Reach Out For Professionals
Increasing the number of nurses involved in clinical research won’t happen on its own. Those of us in a position to hire research professionals need to give greater consideration to the advanced skills nurses bring to clinical research and to reach out to nursing populations for potential candidates to fill research positions. If more training is required than can be taught on the job, we need to encourage nurses to get involved with the continuing education and degree opportunities that can advance their careers.
The scientific and clinical underpinnings of a nursing education mean nurses bring great skill to all aspects of clinical research and make the nurse ideally suited for a variety of research related roles. Patients in clinical trials directly benefit, too, when their care is entrusted to nurses who are knowledgeable about their condition and have the appropriate bedside manner honed from years treating patients in other settings. As an industry, we need to work together to remove barriers and encourage nurses to consider the clinical research path.