Putting the Nurse in Nursing Research

When most nurses hear these words they immediately become victims to the fight or flight response. Immediately, beads of sweat form, faces become flushed and hearts begin to race. Facial expressions betray thoughts of impending doom as they flee the scene.

It’s no wonder nurses usually have little interest in nursing research. In a hospital environment, nurses often think they do not have the time to spend on research.

Yet, many nurses are unaware evidence-based practice means they are employing lessons learned from past research in the clinical arena. They’re things they are doing on a day to day basis.

For example, removing urinary catheters as soon as possible to prevent nosocomial urinary tract infections is a routine nursing practice based on research findings.

Igniting the Fire

Involving nurses in the hospital environment in nursing research, especially for smaller non-academic hospitals can be a monumental task. It involves educating nurses in both nursing research and evidence-based practice.

It is crucial to also foster an inquisitive culture that encourages nurses to scrutinize their practices. This will enable them to be critical and always seek the scientific evidence to support their everyday clinical bedside practices.

How do you begin to spark nurses’ interest in research and evidence based practice?

Following are three strategies you can use to ignite the research fire in your nursing staff:

Lead those who will follow

  • Recognize and accept that not every nurse has interest in research. Start by targeting your motivated nurses who really show interest in learning something new or different. This may be a seasoned nurse who has mastered many of the bedside skills and needs a new challenge, or a fire-starter who has recently enrolled in graduate studies and is looking to become involved in nursing research.
  • Start small and keep it simple. Work with them on a small project related to nursing research. Reward their accomplishments every step of the way. Cards, public praise at staff meetings or hospital newsletters and acknowledgement in the annual evaluations of these nurses is important. It helps to keep them motivated and encourage other staff nurses to become involved in new projects.
  • Ask them to represent the unit at the hospital’s nursing research council or to present a recently published journal article which may change practice to their unit’s staff nurses. Encourage them to ask the burning clinical questions that may change their practice. Enlist the help of your hospital librarian to show staff how to search databases and conduct a literature search on their clinical questions. It may surprise you how influential this nurse may be on the rest of the unit staff.

Use the hand-holding technique

  • Since this is new territory for most nurses, provide a mentor or buddy for them to help form clinical questions and work it through the adopted evidence based practice model of your organization.
  • Advanced practice nurses (APNs) can play a pivotal role in mentoring and nurturing nurses in research. This may involve discussing a recently published journal article, critiquing the article or assisting with its presentation. The APN may also mentor the staff nurses in starting a unit journal club with unit specialty information to share.
  • Anticipate lots of questions and discussion from this new fire-starter nurse researcher. She may have a burning desire to take the project and run with it, but lack the skills on how to critique a journal article or present it in an appropriate format. You don’t want to extinguish the fire, so ensure her there is someone who knows their resources and can dedicate time to answer their questions. If an APN is not available, you may be able to use a nurse educator or enroll volunteer champion nurses from the hospital nurse research council.
  • Peer to peer mentoring is a great way to keep nursing research at the staff’s level, reinforcing that it truly is something every nurse can and is using. Mentors may want to set aside time each month for questions and discussion regarding the current project. Without time dedicated to work on nursing research related projects, momentum will be lost. Therefore, it is imperative nurses understand the implications of nursing research as it relates to their practice.

Administrative support


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  • If it is a goal and objective or at least a priority for the nurse manager or administrators in an organization, then time will be budgeted. In a fast-pace environment it is easy to lose track of a project when a more pressing priority presents itself. Moving forward with the nursing research project and showing progress will help keep it at the forefront. Keep track of all measurable outcomes from the start of the project so the potential impact of the research can be realized early on.

Involving nurses in nursing research does not have to be a daunting task. Holding them by the hand and leading them down the research path will ensure is a positive experience. Keeping them focused and motivated by rewarding their accomplishments every step of the way can change nurses’ attitude towards nursing research from bleak to bright. Reduce the fight or flight response to “nursing research” by putting the nurse back in nursing research.

Lora Bognar and Gladys Reyes are advanced practice nurses, both at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ.

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