The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Leadership and Development 

Practical Tips for Facilitating Research in Clinical Nursing Practice

Christine Kress, MSN, CRNA


Nursing research improves patient care, and clinical nurses have unique leadership perspectives regarding patient care and institutional needs. Clinical nurses involved in research are curious, are innovative, and implement the best practices. Many clinical nurses report lack of understanding of the research process, time, and institutional support as barriers to their involvement in research. This article presents practical strategies to encourage clinical nurses to develop and use research skills.

J Contin Educ Nurs. 2018;49(7):294–296.


Nursing research improves patient care, and clinical nurses have unique leadership perspectives regarding patient care and institutional needs. Clinical nurses involved in research are curious, are innovative, and implement the best practices. Many clinical nurses report lack of understanding of the research process, time, and institutional support as barriers to their involvement in research. This article presents practical strategies to encourage clinical nurses to develop and use research skills.

J Contin Educ Nurs. 2018;49(7):294–296.

Conducting research while in clinical practice can seem daunting. Nurses cite a lack of knowledge of the research process, supervisory or institutional support, and time, as well as conflicting duties, as barriers to research (Burnett, Lewis, Joy, & Jarrett, 2012). Furthermore, studies reflect that many nurses perceive the branches of research and clinical nursing practice as distinct entities, leaving some nurse clinicians with the belief that nursing research is a specialty reserved for academics (Burnett et al., 2012; Cowman, 2017).

Clinical nurses are uniquely positioned as point-of-care leaders to identify and address clinical issues. Despite barriers to conducting research, nurses understand the value of research in contributing to improved patient care (Robichaud-Ekstrand, 2016). Furthermore, the inclusion of clinical nurses in nursing research encourages curiosity, innovation, and the rapid uptake of research findings into clinical practice (Burnett et al., 2012; Cowman, 2017). To promote involvement in nursing research, professional development educators can aid clinical nurses with practical strategies to develop requisite research skills. By using continuing education and professional development resources, clinical nurses can engage with other peers, form mentor relationships, and increase their leadership effectiveness through involvement in nursing research.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Understanding research methods, interpreting research literature, and implementing evidence can be challenging. Clinical nurses cite a reticence toward the research process, making it a barrier to interpreting, conducting, and implementing nursing research (Robichaud-Ekstrand, 2016). Several options are available for clinical nurses to improve their knowledge of the research process.

Robichaud-Ekstrand (2016) found that nurses with higher levels of education were more likely to value and implement evidence-based practice. Furthermore, those nurses were more likely to understand the relationship between research and clinical experience (Robichaud-Ekstrand, 2016), thereby identifying research questions and facilitating the implementation of evidence-based findings. Formal education via in-person or online classes improves exposure to and application of research knowledge. Coursework often includes content linked to research methodology, translational research, and statistical analysis. Options include taking individual courses, completing a certificate in nursing research, or obtaining a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree.

When formal education is not a viable option, continuing education can fill the void for research knowledge and skill or reinforce knowledge already acquired. Private institutions and nursing organizations and associations often host research conferences that showcase clinical exemplars of research and present advanced research topics. Professional development educators are a first-line resource for institutional research conferences offered within a health system. If the health system does not offer research conferences, professional nursing organizations and associations do. Sigma Theta Tau provides links for finding conferences at the local, national, and international level. Attendance at continuing education conferences not only improves knowledge and skill acquisition, but also presents opportunities to network with like-minded nurses.

In addition to attending professional meetings, online continuing education modules offer research education. Professional organizations such as the American Nurses Association and private companies offer online continuing education modules focused on nursing research (American Nurses Association, n.d.). Prior to enrolling in an online continuing education research course, one should review its structure, learning outcomes, creators or authors, and user reviews. This helps to ensure that a course fits the learner's specific needs. In addition, formal education, conferences, and online coursework can meet continuing education requirements for licensure renewal, certification, or recertification, so this should be validated prior to enrolling in a class, no matter its structure.

Tapping Other Resources

Professional development educators can lead clinical nurses to explore free options to advance research application. Tried and true, a journal club can generate discussions about the science and ways to interpret current literature. Specifically, peer-to-peer discussions improve the ability to critique research methods, examine the use of statistics, and explore findings. If a journal club has not been established, the educators can help the clinical nurse form one with peers. The educators can also advise on a research mentor and enthusiast to guide discussions, provide research expertise when questions are raised, and invite nurses from neighboring institutions via posts on social media and community boards. An alternative is to look for an online journal club to join. Keywords to search to find an online journal club include digital, online, nurs*, discussion, and club. Another option is to initiate the formation of an online journal club using an existing framework, such as through (Kean, 2013).

Another free option is to fully use institutional resources, such as a hospital medical librarian. Prior to the meeting, clinical nurses should list questions related to the research process and an area of clinical interest. The medical librarian will help identify journals and books that can be used to increase knowledge about research methods. Further, the medical librarian can introduce nurses to databases that are free for their use. These databases are critical reference points for identifying overall and specific topics of interest to support a review of the literature, aid in problem reviews, explore gaps in science, and aid in evaluating research implications. These same databases can help identify articles to include in a journal club. Reference librarians also are an access point to other local, regional, and national library sources through consortia and other lending arrangements.

Professional Involvement to Support Research

Many institutions have implemented shared governance, sometimes referred to as shared leadership. Shared governance ensures the involvement of clinical nurses, which gives them a voice over issues that affect practice, including research. Health institutions engaged in the Magnet® journey must engage in systematic research, and most agencies meet this standard by having a research council. The purpose of nursing research councils is twofold (University of North Carolina Medical Center, n.d.):

  • Identify and accelerate research into point-of-care practice.
  • Use research methods to solve real-world problems.

With academic partners, some research projects are eligible for internal or external funding, freeing up resources to conduct research or provide equipment, statistical support, or other resources. Members of a research council usually consist of nursing staff from various units and experienced researchers (University of North Carolina Medical Center, n.d.). Clinical nurses gain deeper insight into the research process by serving on this council.

If the hospital employs a nurse researcher, professional development educators can partner with the researcher to help bridge clinical nurses who need assistance with the research function. The nurse researcher typically will assist nurses in critiquing and interpreting research and help them to design research studies and implement findings into clinical practice. As with the medical librarian, clinical nurses should create a list of questions, concerns, or curiosities to address with the researcher. This enables the researcher to make specific recommendations based on individual skill level and ability.

Another alternative to garner time and resources in support of research is to examine whether the clinical agency has a clinical ladder in place. As referenced earlier, clinical nurses attend to practice obligations, which hinders the time available for developmental activities such as participation in research (Robichaud-Ekstrand, 2016). Although not all clinical ladder tracks allot time for research activities, many promote continued development in nursing, including continuing education, committee membership, and leadership opportunities. This allows nurses to use education related to nursing research to advance to higher levels of the clinical ladder. Moreover, a focus on evidence-based practice within clinical ladder tracks encourages the understanding and use of nursing research.

Agencies conducting research must affiliate with an institutional review board (IRB) which require special training. The IRB consists of an interdisciplinary group of scientists and nonscientists within an organization and community to review and approve proposed research studies to ensure safety for research participants. The IRB provides training links that will help prepare clinical nurses to conduct research and is a good resource for improving knowledge about the research process. Clinical nurses can benefit by meeting with representatives from an IRB to discuss the legal and compliance aspects of research. In addition, learners might choose to observe an IRB meeting—an activity that will be beneficial in learning about IRB functions.

Mentor Relationships

Nurses inexperienced in research may benefit from a research mentor. Burnett et al. (2012) found that using clinical nurses as mentor-champions improved the involvement of nurses with less research experience. The nurse mentor focuses on specific developmental learning needs of the mentee; can relate to the mentee's clinical questions; and can help the mentee find ways to navigate pilot studies, examine quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods approaches, and ensure that internal and external resources are accessed to see the study completed. There may be times when a mentor is external, such as through a university or association. The professional development educator is positioned to ensure that the qualifications of the mentor match the needs of the mentee and provides guidance in establishing the mentor–mentee relationship. Another option for mentoring is pairing with another nurse on the basis of education or experience. Robichaud-Ekstrand (2016) suggests that experienced clinical nurses pair with younger nurses with advanced education. Experienced nurses have clinical expertise and can assist in identifying and clarifying clinical questions. Newer nurses with advanced education, defined as a bachelor's degree or above, have increased experience with technology and are more likely to have taken formal coursework in research (Robichaud-Ekstrand, 2016). Pairing allows each nurse to contribute expertise that promotes growth for both nurses as nurse researchers.

Finally, consider online mentoring with an experienced nurse researcher. Sigma Theta Tau offers an online program where nurses can sign up to serve as a mentor or mentee (Sigma Theta Tau, 2018). The program allows for online connection between nurses who share similar interests by matching profiles. Participants can select individuals within the same geographic area or internationally to form lasting relationships that contribute to professional growth and development.


The participation of clinical nurses in research is vital to providing the best care for patients. Although there are many challenges to conducting research as a clinical nurse, practical solutions to overcome these challenges exist. Professional development educators can help clinical nurses examine barriers to research and derive solutions to each. With a plan and the options presented in this article, all things are possible.



Ms. Kress is Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Regional Anesthesia PLLC, Durham, and PhD Student, Greensboro School of Nursing, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Christine Kress, MSN, CRNA, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Regional Anesthesia PLLC, and PhD Student, University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Nursing, P.O. Box 26170 Greensboro, NC 27402-6170; e-mail:


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