Ian Dove suggests that research and clinical nursing could be combined into one role, one that would be perfectly suited for clinical nurse specialists
There is a fundamental difference between doctors and nurses in terms of frontline clinical research. Doctors are expected to evaluate and critique, or be involved in clinical research. However, nurses often appear to leave research behind at university once they qualify. The role of the research nurse combines clinical research and traditional nursing. But these specialists form only a small part of overall nurse numbers. Are nurses missing an opportunity to enhance their evidence-based practice, enrich their daily work and improve patient outcomes?
Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) are in a unique position to combine a clinical focus with research. For example, a respiratory CNS will have daily contact with patients who have specific chronic respiratory diseases, while researchers often target specific disease groups or symptom profiles for observation. The respiratory CNS is best placed to identify potential participants, and is likely to have a sound relationship with patients.
Patients are more likely to consider research participation if they can discuss the study with a specialist nurse they know and trust. The CNS will also have pre-existing knowledge and expertise in his or her specialist area above a generalist research nurse. This could mean less involvement of the principal investigator during examination and identification of clinical signs, symptoms, targeted biochemistry and any specific investigations. This can expand the CNS’s knowledge base and lead to professional development and inter-professional collaboration.
Additional interaction with healthcare professionals has been found to improve patient satisfaction. This individual attention ensures issues are addressed and potentially resolved. Many of these benefits for patients mirror the professional values of nurses: individualised care, interprofessional working, evidence-based care and informed partnership decision-making.
The challenges of this combined role are time management and maintaining the balance between fundamental care and research. The daily workload for nurses is limitless, so careful boundaries need to be set, but the rewards are clear. This model of working could easily translate to any specialty nurse group and enhance the NHS contribution to research, while potentially improving care standards.
In future, research and clinical nursing could be combined into one role but until then nurses have other options. They can discuss secondment with an employer, apply for additional funding from the local Clinical Research Network to allow extra hours for research activity or volunteer for experience in a trust’s research and development department. The Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training is essential to take an active research role; local dates can be accessed via the CRN.
Integrating research into existing specialist nurse roles with the support of research networks would upskill both groups and drive up standards. This would also create an evidence-rich foundation for the future of nursing.
Ian Dove is lecturer in pre-registration nursing, University of Bedfordshire
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