Nursing research is a highly influential sector of nursing, yet it is rarely discussed when exploring a career in nursing. Yet, one of the most important aspects of the profession is to consistently strive to improve patient outcomes. Florence Nightingale herself set the example of a nurse researcher as she gathered statistics about causes of death in the Crimean War. After the war, she continued to gather evidence, presented it logically and recommended clinical protocols based on that information. The nurse researchers of today follow that pattern; it is through research and scientific inquiry that many lives can be saved and improved.
What Is Nursing Research?
According to the National Institute for Nursing Research, nurses in this field are focused on four basic areas of study:
- Building a scientific foundation for clinical practice
- Preventing disease and disability
- Managing and eliminating symptoms caused by illness
- Enhancing end-of-life and palliative care
These four areas of study differ from the medical model of research. A doctor might approach patients and illness with a focus on the cause and what is the best cure. Nursing, however, focuses on managing or reducing symptoms that can't be cured, aims to reduce pain and helps people to die with dignity. Nurse researchers seek methods of preventing disease before it starts and providing treatment for people who need it through social, economic, psychological and cultural understanding. Another valuable function of nurse researchers is the examination of entire communities to determine how they respond to disease.
When nurses are called upon to care for patients, they often ask themselves, "Is this the best that can be done for this patient? Is this necessary? Is there something that would work better?" Simply put, nurses want the very best for their patients, and through good science and study, these questions can be answered.
Who Are the Researchers?
All nurses are able to conduct research, though they should be familiar with statistics, analyzing evidence for validity, research concepts and more. RNs from an associate degree to the doctorate level can be involved in the process. Typically, nurses who have achieved a doctorate level of education in the field of research plan and execute the studies that yield new data.
Notable Nursing Research Topics
Research done by nurses has yielded some influential results that have changed the way we practice. The Braden scale, a way of determining skin breakdown, is ubiquitous within hospitals, nursing homes and home health care. Dr. David Olds designed a program for at-risk expecting mothers that requires nurses to visit and provide advice and care to the mother and newborn during the pregnancy and for the first two years of life. The program saw decreased childhood injuries, decreased hypertension and longer spacing between children. The same model is now being adopted all over the country.
Nursing research and the profession of nursing are one and the same. As long as nurses seek to improve their patients's lives, they will find the best way to make that happen — through quality research and a dedication to patient care.
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