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Nurse Researcher Career Overview

Ann Feeney, CAE
Updated September 8, 2023
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    Nurse researcher jobs offer an excellent option for nurses who enjoy analyzing information and making new discoveries. Nurse researchers add to nursing professional knowledge and bring about better healthcare outcomes.
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    A mature Black female nurse researcher is leading a meeting with other nurses. She is showing the group a medical x-ray on a digital tablet. The multi-ethnic group of medical professionals is seated around a table in a conference room.

    how long to become

    job outlook

    job outlook6% growth from 2019-2029For Medical Scientists

    average earning potential

    average earning potential$81,500SOURCE: PayScale

    What Does a Nurse Researcher Do?

    MSN, DNP, or Ph.D. required
    certification optional

    Nurse researcher jobs involve designing and carrying out research studies, either through new data that they create or from existing research. The following is a list of nurse researcher responsibilities:

    A mid-adult Hispanic female nurse researcher is writing on a whiteboard in her office.

    Credit: JGI/Tom Grill / Getty Images

    Where Do Nurse Researchers Work?

    Nurse researchers work in academic medical centers, government agencies, and other healthcare providers.

    • minusAcademic Medical Centers

      Nurse researchers in academic medical centers conduct research, publish results, and teach undergraduate or graduate students.

    • minusGovernment Agencies

      In government agencies, these professionals perform research, share findings, and publish results internally or externally.

    • minusPublishers

      Nurse researchers working in publishing select articles for publication, review methodology and validity, and edit articles in collaboration with authors.

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    Why Should I Become a Nurse Researcher?

    Research nurse jobs add to professional knowledge and help nurses to do their jobs with evidence-based research, improving healthcare outcomes. Nursing research doesn’t include the same physical demands as clinical nursing and offers more predictable schedules. However, nurse research jobs typically do not pay as much as clinical nursing roles.

    Advantages To Becoming a Nurse Researcher

    • check-circleContribute to professional knowledge
    • check-circleImportant findings can change how nurses work and improve healthcare
    • check-circleLess physically demanding and more predictable schedules than clinical care

    Disadvantages To Becoming a Nurse Researcher

    • x-circle“Publish-or-perish” culture in academia
    • x-circleSome may find work less fulfilling by not directly interacting with patients
    • x-circleRequires time and financial investment in a master’s or doctorate
    • x-circleSalaries are typically lower than clinical nurse practitioner salaries

    How To Become a Nurse Researcher

    Becoming a nurse researcher requires developing skills in research methodology, informatics, statistics, and nursing itself.

    Graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

    A nurse can begin practice with just an ADN, but master’s-level nursing programs require a BSN, so an aspiring nurse researcher must plan to acquire a BSN either directly or as part of a master of science in nursing (MSN) bridge program.

    Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive registered nurse (RN) licensure.

    The National Council Licensure Examination for RNs is a national exam that includes questions on conditions and treatment, nursing practice, patients’ psychological needs, and ethics/legal issues.

    Begin research.

    After acquiring RN licensure, nurses can begin to participate in research, often by assisting nurse researchers or other research professionals.

    Apply to an accredited MSN, doctor of nursing practice (DNP), or doctor of philosophy in nursing (Ph.D.) program.

    Most MSN and doctoral degrees require at least two years of experience as an RN. Some programs have bridge programs for RNs without BSNs.

    Earn an MSN, DNP, or Ph.D.

    Some employers, especially academic medical centers, require or strongly prefer a Ph.D. or DNP, while others require only an MSN.

    Apply for certification.

    Certification is not mandatory but provides a valuable credential. Most certifications require active research experience. Options include clinical research associate, clinical research coordinator, certified professional (through The Association of Clinical Research Professionals), certified research nurse, and certified clinical research professional.

    How Much Do Nurse Researchers Make?

    The annual median research nurse salary is $81,500. Generally, nurse researchers with doctoral degrees earn more than those with master’s-level education. Some research nurse professionals in academia qualify for tenure. In general, clinical research associates earn a median salary of $66,930, while certified clinical research professionals earn an average salary of $72,430. However, because of the RN credential, nurse researchers with these certifications generally earn above the average or median for those positions.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How long does it take to become a nurse researcher?

    Nurse researcher careers require a significant time investment. It takes at least six years of education to earn an MSN and seven years for a doctorate. In addition, most MSN and doctoral programs require at least two years of experience as an RN.

    Why is nursing research important?

    Nursing research finds the most effective approaches to nursing and improves the outcomes for nurses, patients, and healthcare organizations. It builds the body of knowledge for nurse education.

    What are some examples of responsibilities nurse researchers may have?

    Professional responsibilities include protecting human or animal subjects in their research, designing studies that produce valid results, accurately reporting results, and sharing findings through publishing.

    What opportunities for advancement are available to nurse researchers?

    Research nurse jobs offer opportunities for advancement in the academic or research field, such as becoming primary investigator on studies of increasing scope and importance, advancement in administration, or receiving tenure as a professor or college instructor.

    Resources for Nurse Researchers

    • International Association of Clinical Research Nurses

      IACRN improves nursing research, supports nurse researchers, and offers professional development. It also grants board certification to clinical research nurses by portfolio. Research nurses can be full members and RNs or equivalent who are not active researchers can become associate members.
    • National Institute of Nursing Research

      This U.S. government agency, as part of the National Institutes of Health, conducts and supports research, offers training in research methodologies, and provides significant funding for nursing research.
    • The Association of Clinical Research Professionals

      ACRP is one of the most prominent certifying organizations for clinical researchers. It also offers educational resources, networking opportunities, and a job board. It has approximately 13,000 nurse researchers and other clinical researcher members around the globe.
    • Society of Clinical Research Associates

      SOCRA provides educational and professional development opportunities, publishes a journal, offers certification for clinical research professionals, features a job board with nursing research job listings, and hosts networking events. Membership is open to all clinical researchers.

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    Portrait of Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.

    Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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