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Why Do Nurses Need Research?

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Research helps nurses determine effective best practices and improve patient care. Nurses in an online RN to BSN program learn to retrieve, read, critique and apply nursing research. Because new information is always coming to light, it is crucial that BSN-prepared nurses know the importance of research. The findings from peer-reviewed studies can correct old misunderstandings, pave the way for new treatment protocols and create new methodology — all of which improve patient outcomes.

Research also helps nursing respond to changes in the healthcare environment, patient populations and government regulations. As researchers make discoveries, the practice of nursing continues to change. The information students learn can become quickly outdated, so being able to keep up with new developments in nursing helps graduates in their careers.

Every nurse can benefit from knowing why nursing research is important, how research is conducted and how research informs patient care. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs teach nurses to appreciate and use research in their everyday careers, compare findings and read published research.

Information Literacy and Nursing

Information literacy is not the same as the ability to read, use the computer effectively or use search engines. This skill goes beyond comprehending the basics of finding resources. Understanding information transforms it from knowledge you have into knowledge you can actually use. As a nurse, you need knowledge that makes a difference in your practice and helps you stay current in your field.

Nurses learning to effectively process and use information from published research can improve their information literacy. Simply reading study results is of little help if you do not comprehend what you read. Nursing schools teach nurses how to interpret data, compare different studies, process information, critique results and think critically. Information literacy empowers nurses to use research in their careers so they can make meaningful clinical decisions.

Teaching Information Literacy

BSN programs teach nurses to refer to research in response to problems and questions. To this end, many nursing schools collaborate with research librarians to help students become more competent at using information. Problem-based learning allows students to use available information resources when they experience clinical challenges. Practicing these skills in an academic environment prepares nurses to use information resources in their own clinical practice.

Evidence-Based Practice

Evidence-based practice requires using research outcomes to drive clinical decisions and care. Nurses must base their work on the results of research. Peer-reviewed, published data that is accepted by the nursing profession as a whole provides guidance and establishes best practices in the field. Following the evidence, wherever it leads, is key to evidence-based practice. Results must be free of bias, verifiable and reproducible under the same research conditions. The standards for good research are high because published research results are likely to substantially influence the practice of nursing.

When you evaluate published research, consider these four important areas:

  • Validity: Is the study legitimate, sound and accurate?
  • Reliability: Is the measurement’s result consistent?
  • Relevance: Is there a logical connection between two occurrences, concepts or tasks?
  • Outcome: What conclusions did the researchers reach?

Not every study may be meaningful for your patient, question, topic or concern. You need to carefully evaluate every research paper you consider — look for weaknesses, inconsistencies, biases and other problems. Evidence-based practice requires you to become proficient at performing these evaluations and reaching your own conclusions about the information you use.

Types of Research

Research used in evidence-based practice can be quantitative, qualitative or both. From there, these two types can be divided into multiple categories. Understanding how nursing research can be categorized can help you understand and interpret research results.

  • Quantitative research: Numbers, percentages and variables are used to communicate results.
  • Qualitative research: Findings take the form of thoughts, perceptions and experiences.

Three Types of Quantitative Research:

  • Descriptive research expresses the characteristics or traits of a specific group, situation or individual. This type of research looks for new conclusions and connections that can be made based on observed traits.
  • Quasi-experimental research looks at cause-and-effect relationships between different variables.
  • Correlational research considers the relationships among variables, but does not draw a cause-and-effect relationship.

Five Types of Qualitative Research:

  • Ethnography observes or provides analysis about cultural and social customs and practices and how particular cultures understand disease and health.
  • Grounded theory is all about building theories in response to questions, problems and observations.
  • Symbolic interactionism studies personal interaction, communication patterns, interpretations and reactions. These factors can influence how people change their health practices over time.
  • Historical research systematically reviews a topic, culture or group and the subject’s history.
  • Phenomenology uses personal experiences and insights to inform the author’s conclusion.

No particular type of research is necessarily better than the others, but each type has certain uses and limitations. It is important for nurses to know the different types of research and how to use them.

Nurses need research because it helps them advance their field, stay updated and offer better patient care. Information literacy skills can help nurses use information more effectively to develop their own conclusions. Evidence-based practice is important for nurses. Nurses need to understand, evaluate and use research in their careers. Nursing schools teach these skills to help nurses advance in their careers.

Learn more about Northeastern State’s online RN to BSN program .


The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Information Resources: Information Literacy: The Benefits of Partnership

Wolters Kluwer Health: Evidence-Based Practice Network

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Why nurses should undertake more research

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Why nurses should undertake more research

Cathy Henshall, Oxford Brookes University


Disclosure statement

Cathy Henshall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.

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Nursing research is becoming ever more important in UK healthcare due to an increasing ageing population which means that more people are living with long-term conditions and chronic illnesses. Nursing research can help address the healthcare needs of these patients, enhancing their health and well-being as a result.

Healthcare research has traditionally been dominated by doctors, who undertake research to develop new treatments and halt the spread of disease. This has led to huge improvements in public health and disease prevention, as evidenced by our increasing life expectancy .

While for many, living longer brings many positives, for others it can be marred by ill health. Old age brings an onset of multiple chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer. We need a nursing model of care that focuses on providing support for people living with chronic conditions. Nurses are at the forefront of delivering care to these people and play a key role in identifying and improving quality of life for patients.

Nurses, whether community district nurses visiting patients in their homes or cancer nurses caring for patients undergoing treatment, can help patients manage their health problems.

Community nurses can improve the quality of life of patients.

As the NHS creaks under the burden and strain of this ageing population , supporting patients to manage their own health is becoming increasingly necessary. Growing pressure on hospital resources means there is a need to move patients out of hospitals and into the community. With support from nurses, patients can become more involved in their own care.

Nurses are trained to assess, review and oversee any changes to their patients’ health and lifestyle needs. They have the skills and experience to provide support to patients on a practical, physical, emotional and psychological level. In doing so, they can help patients to identify specific practices, such as dietary changes or exercise regimes, that may improve their symptom control and provide therapeutic benefits.

Evidence-based nursing care

As nurses are at the front line of patient care, they are able to identify gaps in clinical practice and develop ideas and strategies for improving the healthcare needs of patients. So it is essential that nurses are encouraged to undertake nursing research to provide them with the opportunity to address the issues they see in clinical practice. By promoting evidence-based nursing care we can close the gaps between research and practice.

Recent changes to the undergraduate nursing curriculum means that all newly qualified nurses are educated to degree level and should have a baseline level of research training. It is important that we feed this research base and encourage nurses to develop nursing as a science, as well as a caring profession. In doing so, the care of patients can be optimised in the knowledge that they are receiving evidence-based care from compassionate people.

Nursing research into the best ways to provide supportive care to patients is crucial for finding out what works best and what can help patients to live well in older age. Rather than nurses carrying out medically focused research that has been designed by doctors, nurses need to carve out their own nursing-focused areas to research.

This might include designing interventions to help patients to take control of and manage certain aspects of their illness such as fatigue, pain and depression. It could also explore any barriers that might prevent patients in local populations from accessing NHS services and examine ways to remove these barriers. Nursing research can also inform practice by identifying areas in their own clinical setting that need improving, such as referral pathways, wound management or asthma education.

A changing picture of healthcare is on the horizon – and an uncertain future looms for the NHS. As a result, the time is ripe for nurses to become research leaders in their own field and yet remain rooted at the heart of their clinical practice.

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