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How to Become a Research Nurse

Not every nurse who enters the nursing field is dedicated to bedside care. While the underlying foundation of nursing and healthcare in general is rooted in “healing,” some of the work occurs behind the scenes.

If you are the type of student who loves the more scientific nature of healthcare, a position as a research nurse might be right up your alley.

What Does a Research Nurse Do, Exactly? describes the main aspects of nursing research as: “[conducting] scientific research into various aspects of health, including illnesses, treatment plans, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare methods, with the ultimate goals of improving healthcare services and patient outcomes.”

These nurses design and implement scientific studies within the medical scope, analyzing data and recording/reporting their findings to colleagues and superiors.

Many people associate the term “research nurse” with pharmaceutical clinical trials. In this subsector, research nurses document side effects, drug interactions and the overall efficacy of the medication being studied. They are also often tasked with identifying and classifying suitable patient candidates for the trial.

Nurses may work directly for pharmaceutical companies or are employed by private medical research organizations, academic medical centers or educational institutions. It’s important to note that this role may involve working with medical devices, not just medications.

While clinical trials represent one area of research nurses can pursue, it’s not the only tract. For example, some research nurses work with specific disease states, studying previous findings and observing patients. Nurses in this role may also be required to contribute to medical journals or present findings at conferences or other educational speaking engagements.

Steps to Becoming a Research Nurse

The first step to becoming a research nurse is for registered nurses (RNs) to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Nurses who already have their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and have passed the NCLEX examination can actually accelerate this process with an online program such as the RN to BSN program at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).

This program includes a course specific to nursing research. It also focuses on the legal and ethical aspects of nursing — two critical features related to nursing research. Participating in bedside care is recommended for nurses pursuing a research tract so they have a more holistic understanding of what their research and data collection contributes to. Most employers prefer to hire research nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or even a doctorate degree (Ph.D.), but the BSN is a critical starting point.

Research nurses can gain certification in a number of different roles. While certification isn’t necessary to practice as a research nurse, it may improve employment opportunities. The following certifications are currently offered by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP):

  • Certified Clinical Research Associate
  • Certified Clinical Research Coordinator
  • ACRP Certified Professional

The Society for Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) also offers certification for the title of Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP). In order to be eligible for any of these certifications, a robust history of clinical research experience is typically required.

Employment Logistics

Research nurses work in a number of different environments. In addition to the entities mentioned above, nurses may secure employment in medical clinics, private practices, private and public foundations, government agencies and international health organizations.

As with any nursing subspecialty, a research nurse’s salary varies depending on their role, level of experience and geographical location. Glassdoor reports an average annual salary of $78,359 for a clinical research nurse, as of June 2021.

PayScale, as reported on by, breaks down salaries for research nurses in different locations around the U.S., listing the following:

  • New York City: $98,733
  • Chicago: $80,000
  • Philadelphia: $78,722
  • Houston: $74,922

Research Nursing: A Career on the Cutting Edge

Over the past decade, nursing has become quite a lucrative career. But it’s always been a fulfilling one.

Kristine Brindak, BSN, RN, and patient service manager for the clinical research unit at the Institute for Human Performance at The State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, appreciates what the research field brings to both her personal career and medicine as a whole. “We know we are contributing to the future of medicine,” she said. “We’re on the cutting edge.”

Learn more about The University of Texas Arlington RN to BSN online program.

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