Nurse researchers are scientists who study various aspects of health, illness and health care. By designing and implementing scientific studies, they look for ways to improve health, health care services and health care outcomes.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19% growth rate for nurse researchers between the year 2012 and 2022, a faster than average rate compared many other careers.
Nurse researchers identify research questions, design and conduct scientific studies, collect and analyze data and report their findings. They often rely on grants to fund their work, which requires writing grant proposals and meeting certain reporting requirements. Many teach in academic or clinical settings and often write articles and research reports for nursing, medical and other professional journals and publications. Nurse researchers often partner with scientists in other fields, such as pharmacy, nutrition, medicine and engineering, to better address complex questions and problems.
Nurse researchers may begin their research careers in positions such as research assistant, clinical data coordinator and clinical research monitor.
The title of principle investigator reflects the most senior research role and greatest responsibility and accountability associated with a research study.
Studies conducted by these dedicated researchers are uncovering such things as new and better ways to:
- Deliver health care services more effectively and efficiently
- Improve quality of life for patients suffering from chronic illnesses
- Encourage patients to make healthy choices about nutrition, fitness and lifestyle
- Assure patient safety and prevent injury and illness
- Provide care and comfort to patients at the end of life
The results of nursing research help build the knowledge base and provide the evidence to guide interventions by nurses and other health care workers. For example, nursing research is improving prenatal care, patient recovery after heart transplant and pain management for cancer and other patients.
Nurse researchers work in a number of different places, from health care facilities and universities to research organizations and laboratories. Private companies and nonprofit organizations focused on health care issues also hire nurse researchers.
Because research studies are often individually funded projects, nurse researchers may move from project to project, working for a specific time period until the grant money ends. The nurse researcher must then seek other funded studies or employment opportunities.
The work of conducting research studies, especially collecting and tabulating data, can involve a lot of repetitive activity and rote data entry. But it can be exciting and rewarding to contribute to research that results in new ways to improve health care delivery.
Nurse researchers write competitive grant applications, report study results and prepare journal articles so good writing skills are essential. They also may present at conferences and meetings, describing their research, its findings and methodology.
Salary Range and Outlook
The average salary for a nurse researcher is $95,000. In addition to research activities, nurse researchers with advanced degrees can supplement their income by writing books, teaching, consulting and speaking at conferences and other events.
Nurse scientists arrive at their research careers in a number of ways, although all of them have doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees. Traditionally, registered nurses would work for a few years before going back to school to get advanced degrees and begin work as a nurse researcher. However, that meant that their research careers started much later in life, often when they were in their mid-fifties. Today, nurses enter Ph.D. programs soon after getting their degree and becoming registered nurses.
Learn More About a Career as a Nurse Researcher
- A Curious Mind: Patients, providers, and communities find healing thanks to the nurses who ask “why?”
- How to Become a Nurse Researcher
- Nurse Researcher: A career, not just a job
- Nursing research: Nurses know best
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- American Nurses Association
- National Institute of Nursing Research
- National Student Nurses Association