CareSearch Blog: Palliative Perspectives

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The role of a Research Nurse

A guest blog post by Dr Caroline Phelan, Lecturer, Ageing, Palliative and Supportive Care, College of Nursing & Health Sciences and Academic, Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death and Dying, Flinders University

  • 29 July 2020
  • Author: Guest
  • Number of views: 1663
The role of a Research Nurse

In this year of the Nurse and Midwife it is appropriate we spend a little time reflecting on the role of the nurse and midwife as a researcher. For nurses and midwives, the integration of evidence into their practice is common, a given. But the generation of that evidence may not be something they are directly related to or have undertaken themselves.

The role of the Research Nurse is now a clearly defined position in several industrial awards. A long held, and incorrect view is the people in this role are simply there to help recruit participants and collect data. The reality is these are highly skilled researchers who contribute to research design, support and mentor the research process and often act as advocates for participants. [1] These nurses and midwives bring a depth of knowledge, experience, and skill to their workplace that should be acknowledged; and a resource that is far too often underutilised by their colleagues. In palliative care settings as in other clinical settings, the role of the research nurse continues to evolve. [2] I have been fortunate to work with many talented Research Nurses who grow and develop others, while providing expertise and patient centred care to the research process in the clinical environment and seek to develop a research culture in their workplace.

In most facilities, including many palliative care services across the country, research is something that is undertaken by others, not by the nurses working clinically. Nurse led research is not promoted as a role for clinicians. I have reflected, with others, on the difficulty of doing research in the clinical environment. [3] The challenges we discussed then remain today – the culture of nursing prioritises clinical practice, there is ambiguity about the place of research in the nursing role and organisations and mangers are often focused on short term goals. Research takes time, and a commitment to the process that does not easily fit into a busy, stretched clinical environment.

My movement into research started slowly with reviewing the literature to find evidence for practice change or to support practice I was presenting as an educator in critical care. Then audits and quality improvement projects and small research projects that were presented at local conferences and education days as a Clinical Nurse Consultant working in Pain Management. I included a minor research project in my coursework Master’s degree and finally dove in and started a PhD with a project of my own and learnt how to be a researcher, well a novice researcher. Stepping away from the clinical ‘coal face’ into academia has given me more opportunities to research.

I’m often asked by fellow nurses if they should do a PhD and there are some benefits to consider. A PhD does provide you with training in research, which is useful if your role requires a research component, like a Clinical Nurse Consultant. It also provides you with an opportunity to lead research and develop research questions that are important to your area or to you, and to apply for funding not available to others. Acquiring research funding does alleviate some of the issues surrounding research in the clinical environment by providing financial support to the process. One of the issues for clinicians is the entry pathway into a PhD can seem arduous as most of us did not complete an honours year in our undergraduate degrees. New courses are being developed by Universities to help clinicians who have work experience transition into research in a clearer way by providing the necessary introductory training and guiding students to a research project.

There is a need for more research led by nurses and led by those working in the clinical environment. Undertaking research in a clinical setting has many challenges and as I found, personally, it is easier to do as an academic where I am paid to research. The cold reality is research is often undervalued by those who have budgets to manage and time away from clinical responsibilities to undertake research is a luxury many are not afforded. Even in the University sector a person’s role as an educator is sometimes more important than their role as researcher. Nurses and Midwives, however, have an opportunity to work collaboratively with clinicians, nurse researchers, and academics, to develop research areas and produce evidence. There are many examples of how these collaborative models can work and the benefits to research that they provide. As we celebrate the year of the Nurse and the Midwife we also celebrate nursing led research and those defining, developing and implementing evidence for nursing practice.


  1. Tinkler L, Smith V, Yiannakou Y, Robinson L. Professional identity and the Clinical Research Nurse: A qualitative study exploring issues having an impact on participant recruitment in research. J Adv Nurs. 2018 Feb;74(2):318-328. doi: 10.1111/jan.13409. Epub 2017 Sep 20. PMID: 28792610.
  1. Perry R, MacArtney J, Bache S, Prew S. The role of the research nurse in the hospice. BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2019 Nov; 9. A51.2-A51. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2019-HUKNC.136
  1. Higgins I, Parker V, Keatinge D, Giles M, Winskill R, Guest E, et al. Doing clinical research: the challenges and benefits. Contemp Nurse. 2010 Jun;35(2):171-81. doi: 10.5172/conu.2010.35.2.171. PMID: 20950198.


For more information related to research for nurses, visit the Research section in the CareSearch website. 


1 comments on article "The role of a Research Nurse"

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Mee Fung Ho

26/03/2021 11:47 AM

A very enlightening article...

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