Career advice

Follow our path to a career in nursing research

Working as a nurse researcher can be personally and professionally rewarding, according to two children's nurses who have done it

Undertaking robust research and basing practice on the best available evidence is everyone’s responsibility. But career pathways that combine research, clinical practice and teaching are limited, and nurses often have to choose between working primarily in a clinical or an academic setting.

Unlike medicine, in nursing there are few clinical professors with joint practice and university appointments. This can be a challenge for aspiring nurse researchers; in healthcare settings there is a lack of support for nurses developing their own research programmes, and in higher education institutions a lack of opportunity to remain active in practice.

Picture credit: Getty Images
Picture credit: Getty Images

Nurses can develop a career in research via the clinical research nurse role, or as part of clinical research networks or funded projects. Other options include undertaking a master’s degree in philosophy or clinical research, or a PhD.

The latter allows nurses to develop their research skills through training, and explore an area of practice in depth. It may also enable a career as a lecturer/researcher, using practice and research skills to support undergraduate and post-graduate nurses as they develop research knowledge that will then underpin practice.

We need effective links between academia and practice to ensure we maintain and develop these pathways to research, and its role in nursing.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen a huge growth in published research exploring the perspectives of health care among children and young people (CYP) and their families.

Much of this research is being undertaken, promoted and adopted by children’s nurses. But it is not without its challenges.

This work often explores issues using qualitative research, and increasingly multiple or mixed research methods, which are particularly useful in developing complex interventions aimed at improving practice.

However, in a healthcare environment under increasing economic pressures, the impact and effectiveness of these interventions must be demonstrated, including how they make a difference clinically and their impact on patient outcomes.

For any children’s nurse considering research as a career, building effective networks is a great place to begin. Start by finding out who is undertaking research with CYP and their families in your local area and join existing networks and forums.

The RCN Research in Child Health (RiCH) Community is a network for all children’s nurses across the UK who are interested in or keen to share research activity and enhance the evidence-based practice in their field.

This network supports practitioners to develop their research ideas and publish findings. It holds networking events, its members regularly contribute articles to sister journal Nursing Children and Young People (NCYP), and it runs an annual £1,500 research award with NCYP. Members are passionate about research, and improving care for CYP and their families.

Although undertaking research is challenging, it is also immensely rewarding, personally and professionally.

For some pointers on how to develop and undertake a research study using qualitative methods, see

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