Clinical research is what drives the emergence of new medical technology. Nursing professionals who have a deep understanding of the design and implementation of clinical research trials, and the funding necessary to support them, are in high demand and routinely pursued for their unique expertise by pharmaceutical companies, research laboratories, universities, private companies, independent research organizations, and hospitals.
Nursing research is a multi-faceted scientific discipline that requires a broad clinical background along with an advanced education. Whether in clinical or academic settings, the primary role of a nurse researcher is the same: to garner research findings to be applied to the betterment of healthcare.
Nurse researchers are dedicated to advancing biomedical science, and work alongside other scientists from fields such as bioengineering and pharmacology. Because most research studies are funded through grant money, nurse researchers move between projects as funded studies become available. From refining the biomedical applications for stem cells, to working on the newest pain management treatments for cancer patients, the work performed by nurse researchers is widely diverse, but always cutting edge.
Nurse researchers perform a number of tasks, which, depending on the project, may include:
- Designing and implementing studies
- Collecting and analyzing data
- Reporting findings
- Writing grant applications
- Educating peers in academic or clinical settings
- Writing articles and research reports in nursing or medical professional journals or other publications
- Presenting findings at conferences, meetings, and other professional speaking engagements
Educational Requirements for Nurse Researchers
Based on educational achievement and experience, nurse researchers can fill a number of professional roles, from research assistant and clinical data coordinator for those entering the field, to clinical nurse research coordinator, research nurse specialist, senior research nurse, or principle investigator for those interested in more advanced research positions.
The standard preparatory education for those who aspire to advance nursing research positions is a research-focused MSN or PhD. Advanced degrees held by nurse researchers include:
- MSN in Clinical Trials Research
- MSN in Clinical Research Administration
- MSN in Clinical Research Management
- PhD in Nursing Science
Research-focused MSN and PhD programs involve research-intensive curriculum in clinical research practice and design. Some of the areas covered in advanced nursing research programs include research conduct and management, national and international regulation in clinical trials, budgeting and grant writing in clinical research, biostatistics, research ethics, and quantitative research methods. Some of the specific courses found in these advanced programs include:
- Descriptive and Inferential Statistics
- Research for Evidence-Based Practice
- Responsible Literature Searching
- Professional Communications
- HIPAA Researchers Privacy Requirements
- Design of Clinical Trials
- Research Integrity
- Human Subjects Research in Biomedical Sciences
- Coordinating Clinical Trials
- Ethics for Advanced Practice Nursing
Nurse Researcher Certification
The Society of Clinical Research Associates’ (SoCRA) Certification Program for Clinical Research Professionals culminates in the Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) certification. The Certification Program for Clinical Research was established to create an “internationally accepted level of knowledge, education and experience” that is recognized by the international medical research community.
SoCRA identifies the clinical research professional as someone who is involved in one or more aspects of clinical trials research, which may include:
- Data collection
- Analysis or monitoring
- Case management of participants
- Recruitment and enrollment of participants
- Protection of participants’ rights
- Maintenance of drug accountability records
- Grant and budget development
- Education of other healthcare professionals
- Report preparation
- Program administration
- Research program audit
To be eligible to sit for the CCRP certification examination, applicants must be current members of SoCRA and show evidence of working within GCP (Good Clinical Practices) guidelines, and under approved protocols. Applicants must meet one of three general criteria outlines:
- Complete at least two years of full-time employment or 3,500 hours of part-time employment as a clinical research professional during the five years immediately prior to applying
- Hold an associate’s degree, undergraduate degree or graduate degree in clinical research and complete at least one year of full-time employment or 1,750 hours of part-time employment as a clinical research professional during the five years immediately prior to applying
- Hold an undergraduate or graduate certificate in clinical research, which must include a curriculum inclusive of at least 12 semester (credit) hours or a total of at least 144 credit hours from an academic institution of higher learning, AND hold an associate or bachelor degree in science, health science, pharmacology or a related field, AND complete at least one year of full-time experience or 1,750 hours of part-time experience as a clinical research professional during the two years immediately prior to applying
The CCRP certification is renewed every three years. Renewal requires proof of at least 45 hours of validated continuing education and a re-certification quiz.
The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers two certification programs:
- Certified Clinical Research Certification (CCRA) program
- Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC) program
Under the ACRP, the Academy of Clinical Research Professionals is the affiliate organization responsible for certifying clinical research professionals.
To be eligible for CCRA certification, applicants must meet one of the following requirements:
- Hold an RN license and 3,000 hours performing “essential duties”
- Hold an associate’s degree and 4,500 hours performing “essential duties”
To be eligible for CCRC certification, applicants must meet the following requirement:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree (or higher) or an RN license and 3,000 hours performing “essential duties”
All ACRP certifications are renewed on a biannual basis. Professionals must meet specific contact hour and continuing involvement point requirements to be eligible for renewal.
About the Emerging Clinical Research Nursing Certification
In January 2007, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (NIH CC) launched an international effort to define and create a certification process for Clinical Research Nursing (CRN), a specialty nursing practice that focuses on the care of research participants. The clinical research nursing certification is still in development.
The NIH CC project defined the scope of the clinical research nurse as including two nursing roles:
- Clinical Research Nurse: Focuses on the care of the research participants
- Research Nurse Coordinator: Focuses on study coordination and data management
The basis tenants for primary clinical research nurses include:
- Expertise in clinical research implementation
- Accountability for individualized research participants plans of care
- Continuity of Care based on consistency in care and approach to care
- Advocacy for both the research participants and the participant’s families
Clinical research nurses are responsible for:
- Coordinating clinical care
- Assuring participant safety
- Overseeing informed consent
- Ensuring the integrity of protocol implementation
- Ensuring accurate data collection and recording
- Managing subject recruitment and enrollment
Clinical research nurses assume responsibility for the abovementioned tasks as they relate to the study requirements and the collection of research data and clinical indications.
Clinical research nurses may perform a number of duties, including administering investigational drugs, performing an experimental or investigational medical procedure, or delivering a psychosocial intervention.
More information on this emerging certification and the NIH Clinical Center can be found on the National Institutes of Health website.
Nurse Research Resources
The National Institute of Nursing Research is involved in funding nursing research and research training. The organization is focused on support through a number of areas, including self-management, health promotion and maintenance, symptom management, chronic and acute diseases, health disparities, and end–of-life care.
The Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science is a membership entity of the American Nurses Association that was established in 2000 to foster “better health through nursing science.” The Council serves as a voice for nursing science at both the national and international level and facilitates life-long learning opportunities for nurse scientists.
Regional elective membership advocacy organizations dedicated to the advancement of nursing research also exist:
- Western Institute of Nursing
- Eastern Nursing Research Society
- Southern Nursing Research Society
- Midwest Nursing Research Society
Nurse Researcher Salary Expectations
Scrubs magazine ranked the nurse researcher second in their December 2010 article, “Top 10 Highest Paying Nurse Specialties,” with an average salary of $95,000.
The Society of Clinical Research Associates’ “SoCRA 2010 Salary Survey” reported the following median salaries in June 2010:
- Research nurses: $63,846 (up from $55,072 in 2004)
- Clinical research associates: $78,579
- Research managers: $75,368
- Project managers: $70,698
According to the 2010 SoCRA Salary Survey, he median salary among nurse researchers who worked in clinical research for less than five years was $48,732; the median for those that performed research for between 5 and 9 years was $57,434; and the median among those with 10 or more years of experience was $69,439.