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Caroline Shuldham: Why it’s vital for nurses to engage in research

Whether you are interested in a career in research, or just want to do a one-off project, taking part in collaborative research programmes will enhance your skills and your contribution to delivering quality patient care, says Caroline Shuldham

Whether you are interested in a career in research, or just want to do a one-off project, taking part in collaborative research programmes will enhance your skills and your contribution to delivering quality patient care, says Caroline Shuldham


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Nurses often aspire to ‘do some research’, and consider doing a small project, sometimes as part of an education programme. But like many other initiatives, greater success can be achieved through collaboration and working in teams.

Research findings form an important part of delivering excellent patient care. Although sometimes considered an academic activity, research draws on many skills – not only do researchers need to know their field, and have critical thinking, analytical, design and interpretation skills, they have to manage the many practical issues that are encountered when carrying out research.

The best approach

This includes organising studies and recruiting subjects – who could be patients, carers or staff – managing a budget, solving problems, working with others and fulfilling a range of governance requirements.

Doing this on your own for the first time is not the best approach. Rather, in common with other professional learning, a key way of developing skills is to work with experienced people, both nurses and other professionals.

From trial design and running a randomised controlled trial, to analysing qualitative data and undertaking realistic evaluation, I have learned so much from colleagues and increased my repertoire. I have seen firsthand the commitment, tenacity and organisational skills required to initiate and complete a study, through to disseminating the results.

Wonderful opportunity

Before embarking on a small project, which you may think is of manageable size, find out what researchers are doing in your organisation, including studies that are planned or under way, and how you might contribute.

This might be the first step to a research career or just a one-off experience. Either way, you can learn from people who are skilled in contrasting paradigms, using a variety of methods and analytical techniques.

What better way is there to learn than by allying yourself to an expert? Your contribution might be small at first, but with experience it could grow. Everyone has to start somewhere, and taking part in a research programme is a wonderful opportunity to learn about all the elements that make up a successful research project.


Caroline Shuldham is chair of the RCNi editorial advisory board. A former nursing director, she is an independent adviser on research, teaching and mentoring.

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