Research nurses: specialists delivering high-quality care
Clinical research is a rewarding career option that makes a difference to patients. Showcase your work and inspire others by entering the RCNi Nurse Awards
When I qualified as a nurse in 1994, I was unaware of the role of clinical research nurse.
I had learned about the importance of evidence-based nursing care and the contribution of nursing research to our profession, but the concept of a research nurse was alien to me.
Fast forward a few years, and professional and personal circumstances resulted in me successfully applying for a job as a clinical research nurse. Within a few weeks I knew I had found my perfect job.
As a clinical research nurse, I had time to deliver high quality care to patients while contributing to the development of new treatments that would improve patients’ quality of life and potentially save lives.
However, I wasn’t prepared for my former colleagues' and peers' assumptions about the research nurse role.
For many ward-based nurses, research was something that happened away from the clinical area. The clinical research nurse role was often regarded as an easy option – 9-5, desk-orientated with minimal patient contact and plenty of time to drink coffee.
Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago, and the research landscape has changed considerably.
Clinical research is considered a core NHS business, fundamental to high-quality care delivery and widely reported to improve patient outcomes. These changes have led to the growth of a clinical research nurse workforce and a wider understanding of the nature of this specialist role.
Successful clinical research involves a partnership between patients who consent to participate in research studies and clinical research nurses performing a specialist role at the interface between patients and the wider research team.
At its most basic, the clinical research nurse role involves recruiting patients to, and ensuring the successful conduct of, clinical research.
However, the role is much more complex. The central challenge of the research nurse is maintaining equilibrium between patient care and fidelity to research protocols. This requires advanced communication skills, and excellent clinical, nursing and decision-making skills, as well as a willingness to learn new skills and techniques.
Additional clinical research nurse roles vary, but can include (Hastings et al 2012):
- Working in research and wider multidisciplinary teams to co-ordinate complex care pathways.
- Screening patients for eligibility to enrol in trials.
- Supporting informed consent.
- Facilitating sample collections.
- Conducting ongoing patient assessments.
- Clinical decision-making about treatment continuations.
- Assessment and management of treatment side effects.
- Administering novel therapeutic agents.
- Ensuring treatment is delivered according to the trial protocol and adverse event reporting.
Research nursing incorporates patient safety and protection, co-ordination and continuity of care, advanced clinical practice, study management, accurate data collection and the generation of scientific clinical evidence.
I am proud to be a clinical research nurse and am delighted that the RCNi Awards have provided an opportunity to recognise and reward excellent practice by clinical research nurses.
By recognising, sharing and celebrating good practice we can demonstrate the unique contribution this highly skilled workforce makes to patient care and scientific discovery.
Most importantly, we can inspire the research nurses of tomorrow.
Hastings C, Fisher C, McCabe M (2012) Clinical research nursing: A critical resource in the national research enterprise. Nursing Outlook. 60, 3, 149-156.
Cancer Research UK sponsors the Excellence in Cancer Research category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2019
About the author
Anne Croudass is lead research nurse, Cancer Research UK, London