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Under study: How healthy is the state of nursing research?

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In my role, I am privileged to hear about all sorts of great research work by nurses, both in terms of academics being involved in major studies and staff on the ward innovating to identify best practice.


However, the material I receive on nurse-led studies is dwarfed utterly by the correspondence I receive relating to medical research by doctors.

Flicking through even some of the top nursing journals can also be an arduous task, leaving me with question marks over the size, location and – often frustratingly inconclusive – conclusions of many studies that suggested much more from their tantalising titles or introductions.

”Medicine is generally set up with research in mind more than nursing”

Of course, I realise that doctors often have more time, more academic training, more funding access and that medicine is generally set up with research in mind more than nursing.

But it still perturbs me, given the size and importance of the nursing workforce, that from what I can see research is not a more common-place and routine part of the profession and an individual’s career progression.

After all, Florence Nightingale was herself an early exponent of evidence-based research and advocated the routine collection of hospital statistics, so patient outcomes could be compared.

”Florence Nightingale was herself an early exponent of evidence-based research”

That is not to say there are no shining lights now, as there definitely are. A quick look back over the last week or so of Nursing Times online news coverage provides some evidence.

For example, researchers from King’s College London and Southampton University are looking into the legacy of the national Productive Ward programme and finding out interesting things on its impact over the last 10 years.

On an individual level, a UK nursing academic has recently been recognised by a prestigious US medical society. Professor Tom Quinn is the first nurse to become a fellow of the American College of Cardiology in its history.

Sticking with the global scene, a native American tribal leader and nursing academic is to establish the world’s first centre to carry out research into standards of healthcare received by indigenous peoples. Dr John Lowe is one of only 20 native American nurses in the US who has a doctoral degree.

Meanwhile, at a more grassroots level, the Royal College of Nursing is encouraging nurses, students and healthcare assistants to submit ideas to improve practice, with the best receiving mentorship to help implement their innovation.

”I want more and so does the research arm of the NHS”

And, it should be noted that over the last couple of years, we have been treated to waves of fresh analysis of the findings from the seminal RN4CAST study. It has provided a wealth of information on how nursing workforce factors impact on patient safety.

But I want more and so does the research arm of the NHS, the National Institute for Health Research. As a result, Nursing Times and the NIHR have teamed up to carry out a survey of how nurses view the current state of nursing research and their involvement in it.

We are asking questions such as how important is research to the profession and best practice, would you like to be involved in it, are you aware of the opportunities to get involved and what are the barriers to doing so?

”Nursing research should not play the understudy to medicine”

I would be great if you could spare a couple of minutes to complete our online survey, and in so doing contribute towards a news story that will hopefully raise awareness of some important issues.

Nursing research should not play the understudy to medicine. It is a different animal but also complementary and certainly no less important.

Let’s celebrate what we have, but also push for more, as it is through research that I believe nurses can increasingly prove their worth and, as a result, increasingly make their voices heard.

If you’d like to get involved, you can complete the survey here.

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