How to Become a Nurse Researcher

October 10, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/10/23

Interested in being at the forefront of healthcare advancements? Read on to learn how to become a nurse researcher, so you can do your part to transform patient care. 

If you're a nurse looking to take your career to the next level, consider becoming a nurse researcher. These professionals play a vital role in the healthcare industry by working to improve patient care and outcomes through evidence-based research.

In this article, we'll discuss the exact steps you need to take to join this profession, what your job will entail, and how much you can expect to make in this rewarding career path.

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Steps to Becoming a Nurse Researcher

Here are the steps you need to follow to become a nurse researcher. 

Step 1: Obtain a Nursing Degree 

Your first step is to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN) from an accredited nursing program. This comprehensive program, usually completed in four years, lays the foundation for your nursing knowledge and skills, preparing you for the exciting world of research and discovery that lies ahead.

Throughout your coursework, you'll delve into a range of subjects, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and nursing ethics, while gaining valuable hands-on experience through clinical rotations. By the time you graduate, you'll have developed a solid understanding of patient care, critical thinking, and evidence-based practice.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Upon successfully completing your BSN program, you'll need to demonstrate your nursing competency by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). 

This pivotal exam evaluates your knowledge, skills, and abilities, ensuring you're well-prepared to provide safe and effective patient care as a Registered Nurse.

Tackling a variety of topics, the NCLEX-RN covers everything from health promotion and maintenance to physiological integrity, psychosocial integrity, and effective care management. 

With your RN license in hand, you'll have taken a significant stride towards a fulfilling career in nurse research, unlocking a wealth of opportunities to further develop your skills and expertise.

Step 3: Gain Clinical Experience

Before immersing yourself in the world of research, it's essential to accumulate hands-on clinical experience as an RN. This invaluable experience serves as a cornerstone in your nursing career, helping you develop a robust understanding of patient care, healthcare delivery, and the intricacies of the healthcare system. 

By working closely with patients, medical professionals, and interdisciplinary teams, you'll sharpen your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while gaining crucial insights into the real-world challenges and needs within healthcare. 

This firsthand knowledge will not only enrich your perspective but also empower you to ask the right questions and make meaningful contributions as a nurse researcher.

Step 4: Earn a Graduate Degree

Nurse researchers generally possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. These advanced programs are designed to deepen your understanding of nursing practices, while equipping you with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in research. 

Delving into specialized coursework, you'll explore research methodologies, data analysis techniques, and evidence-based practice, all of which are crucial components of a nurse researcher's skill set.

In addition to honing your clinical expertise, these graduate programs will expose you to diverse perspectives on healthcare, policy, and leadership, fostering a well-rounded and informed approach to nursing research. 

By pursuing an MSN or DNP, you'll be well-prepared to tackle complex research questions, drive innovation, and contribute to the ongoing improvement of patient care and outcomes in the ever-evolving world of healthcare.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Although not required, gaining a certificate in research can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the field. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers the Nurse Researcher Certification, a highly respected credential that highlights your proficiency and commitment to nursing research. 

By pursuing this certification, you'll not only reinforce your research skills and knowledge, but also gain a competitive edge in the job market. 

This widely recognized credential can open doors to new opportunities, advance your career, and demonstrate your unwavering commitment to contributing to the betterment of patient care and the healthcare industry through rigorous research and evidence-based practice.

What Does a Nurse Researcher Do?

Now that we’ve discussed how to become a nurse researcher, you might be wondering what these professionals do. Nurse researchers advance nursing and healthcare by designing, conducting, and analyzing research studies to improve patient care. Their work includes a range of activities such as:

Identifying Research Topics

Nurse researchers begin their work by identifying relevant and significant research questions in the nursing and healthcare fields. They consider current healthcare trends, emerging patient needs, and gaps in existing knowledge to develop research topics that can have a meaningful impact on patient care. 

Developing Research Proposals 

Once a research topic is identified, nurse researchers develop detailed research proposals outlining the study's goals, objectives, methodology, and expected outcomes. These proposals often require approval from institutional review boards or funding agencies before the research can begin.

Designing and Conducting Research Studies

Nurse researchers design research studies using appropriate methodologies, such as quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods approaches. They collect and analyze data from various sources, including clinical observations, patient records, surveys, interviews, or focus groups, to address the research questions. 

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Nurse researchers use statistical software and other analytical tools to analyze the collected data, identify patterns and trends, and draw conclusions based on their findings. They must also consider potential biases, limitations, and confounding factors that could impact the study's validity.

Disseminating Research Findings

An essential part of a nurse researcher's role is to share their research findings with the broader healthcare community. They may present their work at conferences, publish their findings in peer-reviewed academic journals, or collaborate with other healthcare professionals to implement evidence-based practices.

Where Do Nurse Researchers Work?

Nurse researchers can be found working in a diverse range of settings, each offering unique opportunities for professional growth and collaboration. These settings include, but are not limited to:

Academic Institutions

Many nurse researchers are employed by colleges and universities, where they teach nursing students and conduct research. Working in an academic setting provides nurse researchers with access to resources, funding, and collaboration opportunities with other faculty members and researchers from various disciplines.

Hospitals and Healthcare Organizations

Nurse researchers can also work within hospital systems or healthcare organizations, where they collaborate with clinicians and other healthcare professionals to conduct research and improve patient care. 

In these settings, nurse researchers may work on projects that have a direct impact on clinical practice, such as quality improvement initiatives or the development of new care protocols.

Government Agencies

Nurse researchers may be employed by local, state, or federal government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health. These positions often involve conducting research on public health issues, developing healthcare policies, and evaluating the effectiveness of existing programs.

Nonprofit Organizations and Foundations

Some nurse researchers work for nonprofit organizations or foundations focused on healthcare, where they contribute to research projects aimed at improving patient outcomes or addressing specific health issues. These organizations may provide funding and resources for nurse researchers to pursue their research interests.

Research Institutes and Think Tanks

Nurse researchers can also be found working at research institutes such as the National Institute of Nursing Research or think tanks, where they collaborate with other researchers from various disciplines to address complex healthcare challenges. 

In these settings, nurse researchers may work on interdisciplinary projects, which can lead to innovative solutions and insights.

Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Companies

Some nurse researchers work within the private sector, such as pharmaceutical or medical device companies. In these roles, nurse researchers contribute to the development and evaluation of new medications, treatments, or medical technologies, ensuring that they are safe and effective for patient use.

Nurse Researcher Salary & Job Outlook 

The average Nurse Researcher salary in the United States is $91,289 as of September 25, 2023, but the salary range typically falls between $81,364 and $101,082. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession. 

The job outlook for nurse researchers is positive, with an expected growth rate of 6% between 2022 and 2032, driven by the increasing demand for evidence-based healthcare practices.

FAQs: How to Become a Nurse Researcher

Still have questions about how to become a nurse researcher? Take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions.

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Researcher?

The time it takes to become a nurse researcher depends on your educational path and clinical experience. Generally, it takes four years to complete a BSN, followed by an additional two to four years for an MSN or DNP program. Gaining clinical experience as an RN before pursuing graduate education can also add to the timeline.

2. What Are the Requirements to Become a Nurse Researcher?

The primary requirements for becoming a nurse researcher include obtaining a BSN, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, gaining clinical experience as an RN, and earning a graduate MSN or DNP degree. Optional certification can also help enhance your credibility in the field.

3. Do Nurse Researchers Make Good Money?

While it’s not the highest paid nursing job, nurse researchers have the potential to earn competitive salaries, which may vary based on factors such as their level of education, experience, and geographic location.

4. Are Nurse Researchers in Demand?

Nurse researchers are definitely in demand. There’s an increasing need for evidence-based healthcare practices and an ongoing focus on improving patient care and outcomes.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a nurse researcher can be a rewarding career path for those interested in improving healthcare through evidence-based research. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can take the first step towards making a significant impact on patient care and advancing the field of nursing through research. 

If you're passionate about healthcare and research, consider exploring how to become a public health nurse and embark on a fulfilling career as a nurse researcher.

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