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Nurse Researcher Career Overview

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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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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:

Primary Responsibilities

  • Designing nursing research studies
  • Carrying out research
  • Documenting that their research protects any human or animal subjects involved
  • Publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals or books
  • Presenting at conferences
  • Keeping up with professional literature

Career Traits

  • Strengths in analysis, observation, and written communication
  • Ethical in publishing studies and the treatment of human or animal subjects
A mid-adult female Hispanic nurse researcher is writing on a whiteboard in her office. She is holding a stack of research reports in her left hand, and there is a microscope and notebook laying on the desk behind her.

Image: JGI/Tom Grill / Getty Images

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Where Do Nurse Researchers Work?

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

Academic Medical Centers


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

Government Agencies


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

Publishers


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

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

  • Contribute to professional knowledge
  • Important findings can change how nurses work and improve healthcare.
  • Less physically demanding and more predictable schedules than clinical care

Disadvantages To Becoming a Nurse Researcher

  • “Publish-or-perish” culture in academia
  • Some may find work less fulfilling by not directly interacting with patients.
  • Requires time and financial investment in a master’s or doctorate
  • Salaries 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.

Find State-Specific Salary Data Here

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, RN, MSN is a registered nurse who started in a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved to infertility care where she worked for almost 10 years. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. Galan currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University.

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Advertisement NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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