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How to Become a Research Nurse

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jul 6, 2023
Research nurses in an office discuss a research study while working over a laptop and writing on a clipboard.

How to Become a Research Nurse

The potential for medical research to contribute to advances in health care is enormous. In 2022 alone, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lauded the role of research in:

  • Identifying ways to strengthen the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines
  • Developing a treatment to delay the onset of diabetes
  • Creating processes that could potentially repair organ damage after a stroke or a heart attack
  • Discovering interventions to ensure that individuals exercise regularly

Medical research involves the efforts of many professionals who serve in a variety of roles. Research nurses, for example, play one of the most essential roles in medical research. Combining their expertise in patient care with efforts to advance medical science, research nurses have the opportunity to make lasting impacts in health care. Individuals who are considering enrolling in an online nursing program can benefit from exploring how to become a research nurse and what the role entails.

The Role of a Research Nurse

Research nurses ensure the health and safety of patients who participate in medical research projects such as clinical trials. They are critical in balancing the protection of patients’ health and privacy with the goals of medical research. They also serve a key role as a liaison between patients, patients’ families, and research teams.

Research nurses work in settings such as acute care facilities, clinics, and medical units specifically devoted to research. They can also work for organizations such as biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies, or regulatory agencies.

Responsibilities of Research Nurses

Working as a research nurse involves a range of responsibilities. The NIH groups those responsibilities into the following domains:

  • Conducting research study management duties
  • Contributing to clinical science
  • Ensuring coordination and continuity of care
  • Performing the responsibilities of clinical practice
  • Protecting human subjects

The day-to-day responsibilities of research nurses include duties such as:

  • Administering new treatments
  • Collecting data from medical tests
  • Communicating with patients and their families regarding the expectations and goals for a clinical trial
  • Documenting the results of medical study research
  • Interviewing patients before they undergo a new procedure
  • Monitoring and recording patients’ progress following an experimental treatment
  • Supervising patients to ensure they follow the protocols of a research study

Contributions of Research Nurses

Research nurses received significant recognition for their important contributions to developing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, but they have been instrumental in medical research since the early 1900s. Research nurses have made notable contributions leading to advancements in various areas of health care, such as:

  • Allergies
  • Anesthesia
  • Behavioral health
  • Cardiology
  • Critical care
  • Diabetes
  • Infectious disease
  • Neuroscience
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics

Specific examples of their contributions include research nurses’ participation in studies that:

  • Evaluate HIV risk screening and testing tools for vulnerable children
  • Analyze the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer
  • Explore the use of drugs to reduce bone fractures in people who have Parkinson’s disease

How to Become a Research Nurse: Key Steps in the Process

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a research nurse, those interested in this field can take certain steps to prepare for the role.

Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Becoming a research nurse typically entails earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Earning a BSN enables individuals to acquire fundamental nursing expertise, as well as hone their skills in areas such as clinical decision-making, leadership, and working on interdisciplinary teams.

Become Licensed as a Registered Nurse

Research nurses also need to hold a registered nurse (RN) license, which they can obtain by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). After passing the exam, individuals can apply to the board of nursing in their state to obtain licensure as an RN.

RNs who have not earned their BSN can take advantage of RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs that are specifically designed for them to complete their degrees.

Gain Nursing Experience

RNs typically gain several years of nursing experience prior to becoming research nurses. This experience allows them to develop and hone essential skills, including those related to direct patient care, as well as explore which field of research interests them the most.

Consider Earning an Advanced Degree and Certification

Some research nurse positions require nurses to hold an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Earning certifications also can boost a research nurse’s credentials. For example:

  • The Association of Clinical Research Professionals offers certifications such as Certified Clinical Research Associate (CCRA) and Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC).
  • The Clinical Research Nurse Certification Council offers the Clinical Research Nurse (CRN) certification.

Research Nurses Help to Shape the Future of Health Care and Their Own Profession

In entering the field of research nursing, nurses have the opportunity to influence care delivery, contributing to the development of new treatments and best practices for medical providers. Research nurses also have a hand in shaping health policy and the models of health care that can mold the future of nursing practice itself.

The research in which nurses participate ultimately enables them to give back to the profession they love. For example:

A 2021 report in BMC Nursing noted that research has enabled nurses to:

  • Standardize nursing practices
  • Improve patient outcomes
  • Strengthen the quality of health care
  • Reduce the cost of health care

A 2022 report in the Journal of Clinical Nursing noted that research specifically focused on nursing science has helped to develop interventions that nurses can use to:

  • Improve the comfort levels of critically ill patients
  • Support the emotional well-being of patients
  • Improve patients’ quality of life following critical illnesses or injuries

Advancing Health Care Through Research

Research nurses have the opportunity to work on the cutting edge of medical innovation. In the pursuit of advancing health care, research nurses conduct meaningful work that can lead to significant improvements in people’s lives.

Individuals who are interested in working in this field should explore The University of Tulsa’s online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to learn how it can help them achieve their professional ambitions. Equipping students with skills in areas such as the examination of research and the continual evaluation of nursing care, the program could set the stage for you to work toward a career in medical research. Begin your journey to a fulfilling nursing career today.

Recommended Readings

How the Theory of Human Caring Applies to Nursing

What Can You Do With a BSN?

What Is Roy’s Adaptation Model of Nursing?


American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, “Why Should I Participate in Nursing Research?”

American Nurses Association, How to Become a Research Nurse

American Nurses Association, What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing?

Applied Clinical Trials, “The Largest Parkinson’s Disease Study Ever Attempted Is Being Made Possible Only with Mobile Research Nurses”

Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing, “The Oncology Clinical Research Nurse Study Co-ordinator: Past, Present, and Future”

Association of Clinical Research Professionals, ACRP Certifications

BioSpace, “A Guide to Becoming a Clinical Research Nurse”

BMC Nursing, “Evidence-Based Practice Beliefs and Implementations: A Cross-Sectional Study Among Undergraduate Nursing Students”

Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal, “Oncology Clinical Trials Nursing: A Scoping Review”

Clinical Research Nurse Certification Council, About Certification

International Association of Clinical Research Nurses, IACRN Publications

Journal of Clinical Nursing, “A Practice-Based Model to Guide Nursing Science and Improve the Health and Well-Being of Patients and Caregivers”

Journal of Research in Nursing, “Nurses in Clinical Trials: Perceptions of Impact on the Research Enterprise”

Massachusetts General Hospital, MGH Clinical Research Nurses

Mayo Clinic, Research Department and Divisions, Nursing

National Institutes of Health, “2022 Research Highlights”

National Institutes of Health, Nursing at the NIH Clinical Center

ONS Voice, “Nursing Roles in Clinical Trials”

PLOS ONE, “HIV Risk Screening and HIV Testing Among Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Community Settings in Tanzania: Acceptability and Fidelity to Lay-Cadre Administration of the Screening Tool”

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