It’s safe to assume that nurses purely diagnose and care for patients. However, nursing staff (from educators to juniors and interns) always learn new skills, build knowledge, and make the most of pioneering research.

‘You’ll frequently find clinical research nurses often do more than care for patients outright. They help find and produce new treatments, care plans, and opportunities for people to get better in the coming years. While there will always be researchers working in laboratory conditions behind the scenes, research nurses apply their practical knowledge alongside finding new theoretical treatment techniques.

Of course, when you start a nursing degree, you don’t have to decide whether or not a specialism such as clinical research is right for you. It’s an additional string to your bow that you can adopt and develop later.

Let’s take a closer look at research in nursing, however, and consider how care planning, in-depth analysis, and physical treatment all work hand-in-hand.

What is nursing research, and how is it undertaken?

Nursing research covers a wide range of bases. At its simplest, the role of research in nursing, and for nurses, is to find new ways to treat patients, develop new medicines, collect treatment data, and learn more about how a team can become more effective.

Research nurses have a distinct advantage over researchers outside clinics and hospitals as they work directly with patients, treatment systems, and medicines and actively monitor outcomes. Therefore, they arguably have more insight into how others apply their research.

As you may expect, research nurses will juggle various roles and tasks daily. They must ensure their patients are healthy and recover and continue to find efficient and effective ways of bringing even the sickest of their intake back to full health.

Research nurses work with various specialists and experts to help design care plans for other nursing staff to use in the future. With proven templates for success, future patients can expect more reliable routes to recovery and more effective treatment plans.

The role of a research nurse actively requires them to take part in the investigation and development of treatments and the delivery and monitoring of results. They must conduct health screenings, observe patients, and set up clinical trials. They will also work in a supervisory capacity to ensure team members work to the same expectations.

What is evidence-based practice in nursing?

Evidence-based practice is the backing for nursing research, as it relies on nursing staff drawing from treatment precedents and trial results to deliver effective patient care.

Rather than relying on a “trial and error” methodology, research nurses observing evidence-based practice will instead draw on a large pool of clinical results to base their care plans. They will analyze evidence for reliability, the strength of outcomes, the legitimacy of studies, and whether or not the treatments proposed are relevant.

When undertaking online RN to MSN programs, such as those offered by Wilkes University, you can explore historical treatment cases. Wilkes University also allows students to explore their new knowledge and skills through placements, meaning you’ll get to explore evidence-based practice close-ups. Evidence-based practice in nursing revolves around research and a careful dissection of information. Not only that, but nurses using this information need to use these details effectively to deliver specific care to individual patients.

This all helps to make the role of research and clinical practice a little more varied and, for many nurses, more exciting. Before getting into nursing research, it’s important to remember the two main research models: quantitative and qualitative.

What is quantitative research in nursing?

Quantitative research generally deals with numbers. That means any nurses undertaking this type of research will typically look at the number of patients who respond well to a specific medication, for example, and will look for variables and anomalies in data.

It is objective and systematic. Quantitative research takes insight into the basic statistics rather than focusing on emotional effects on data. For example, nurses will look for clear evidence that treatment A works well on people from demographic B.

Nurses will often look at different variables in quantitative research and consider what causes certain cases to change. They’ll also look for correlations, such as how patients respond at specific points to certain treatments.

Quantitative research helps nurses understand how certain variables play a role in treating various demographics, health profiles, and other case groupings.

Research nurses will also look carefully at traits between certain groups and make firm conclusions. For example, are there clear characterizations between specific data correlations? What do people in “group A” seem to have in common?

What is qualitative research in nursing?

Qualitative research, meanwhile, focuses on individual experiences and emotions. Beyond the raw data you’d typically examine through quantitative data, this side of research applies context to, and thus qualifies, why certain outcomes occur.

For example, nurses and researchers may use qualitative methods such as phenomenology and symbolic interactionism. Phenomenology looks closely at how individual personal experiences affect responses to care and treatment outcomes. Symbolic interactionism, meanwhile, looks carefully at individual reactions and person-to-person interactions.

Ultimately, qualitative nursing research helps specialists understand how and why patients feel a certain way about specific elements of their care plans. While raw data is great for spotting correlations and making better-informed decisions, it is not always reliable for determining context or individual care needs.

Therefore, many experienced research nurses try to balance quantitative and qualitative methods. It’s always worth noting that no one or two research methods are ever considered “the best!”

One of the many benefits of becoming a nurse is that you’ll get to explore lots of different ways to treat people for the better and help transform care plans for years ahead. You’re always learning and exploring!

Why is research so important in nursing?

Many people quickly assume that nurses arrive armed with all the skills and knowledge they need to help everyone. While nursing education is vital for ensuring new intakes know how to create and deliver care plans, nurses never stop learning.

Let’s look at a few ways in which research actively helps nurses be at their best and how it’s always helping to drive more efficient and longer-lasting outcomes for patients.

Research helps nurses develop new skills.

Whether through basic study or actively participating in research, nurses can build massively upon their skill sets by diving into evidence and precedents.

Without research and evolving research, nurses would otherwise be restricted to treating each patient the same and never moving past their basic stations. While many nurses prefer a general role within a clinical setting, others may want to explore gerontology or pediatric care or head out into their communities.

Exploring research on the job helps nurses to learn more about what to expect from different specialties. They’ll learn how to build on their technical and soft skills while working and what they need to do to grow beyond their current role.

Of course, what they do with this knowledge and research is entirely up to them, but there are almost unlimited opportunities available for nurses to upskill and develop through research.

Research helps nurses to understand better how to treat patients

While all patients, cases, and demands will differ in many ways, research helps nurses and specialists understand what might work with greater certainty. Again, it tests different methodologies and treatments without entering “trial and error” mode.

With each patient treated, nurses actively build up research and experience. This means they can use said experience and knowledge to transfer to future cases and help develop care plans for others to follow.

While we all have highly specific healthcare needs and demands, treatment options are always available to cater to general conditions and ailments.

With research, nurses can learn how to apply certain treatments and techniques to particular demographics. Or they may learn how people at specific stages of treatment (during oncology, for example) react to various choices.

The fact that nursing and medicine are constantly evolving means there will be a near-endless pool of knowledge and precedents to work with. This also means that, over time, treating patients effectively will become more efficient for all involved.

Research helps nurses keep up to date with the latest practices and treatments.

As mentioned, the world of healthcare is always changing. Challenges such as those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, forced many nurses to adapt to services such as telehealth, where patients can access care and support over video calls.

Nurses who keep up to speed with the latest technology and advances in techniques will always be ready to apply them in their everyday work. While there will always be treatments and procedures that have worked well for decades, research helps us understand how to use emerging trends to improve treatment outcomes.

For example, how can nurses use AI (artificial intelligence) to help their patients? Will new medicine and treatment breakthroughs for HIV and AIDS patients effectively change how nurses diagnose and refer them in the future?

These are just two key examples to remember as a nurse in training. Resting purely on ancient precedents isn’t a healthy way to approach patient outcomes. Instead, the most successful nurses are always willing to learn new things and step out of their comfort zones during a working day. Healthcare will keep evolving, so running from change doesn’t make sense here and now.

Research helps to improve nurses’ well-being

Nurses may not often consider their health and well-being when treating patients and undertaking research. However, a nurse suffering from poor mental or physical health may struggle to deliver their best care and apply themselves effectively in the workplace.

Research, believe it or not, can help nurses to improve their well-being on the job. Accessing research to help improve their working practices can reduce stress when working with critical patients. By speeding up the treatment process and ensuring that cases have more positive outcomes, nurses may feel less overwhelmed and more ready to take on the next challenge.

With this, confidence builds. Understanding and dissecting research and watching the positive effects applying said knowledge and precedents could bring will ensure nurses can continue treating their patients with renewed vigor and self-belief. These positive feelings can only ever improve overall well-being.

That’s not to say there won’t be challenges, with or without research. However, with extra knowledge and confidence, nurses at all career stages will feel more ready to tackle complex cases. The knock-on effect is better mental health and morale.


Without research, nursing’s scope is extremely limited. Without new explorations and studies, nurses must rely on well-worn practices and even guesswork to care for their patients. That would lead to a potentially harmful culture of “trial and error,” putting lives at risk.

While clinical research nursing is a niche within the industry, anyone keen to enter nursing should have a sharp analytical mind and always be ready and willing to learn and build on their knowledge. This is a career where you will continuously improve and build up your expertise – nobody’s perfect, but you can always be better! Before deciding on a nursing specialism, choosing a degree that can give you the best foundations for your future is wise.