8 Things You Might Do as a Research Nurse

A research nurse stares intently at a test tube

If you’ve been working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), you’re no stranger to the demands of bedside nursing. You provide essential medical care and monitoring for patients every day—checking their vitals, ensuring their comfort and communicating their statuses to physicians and Registered Nurses (RNs).

You’re ready to take your career to the next level as you continue to practice quality nursing, and you’re considering going back to school to become a registered nurse yourself—you’re just not sure what that career path will look like, and whether it’s worth it for you.

The great news? The odds are in your favor. Employment of RNs is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. An average of 203,200 job openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade, and the median annual research nurse salary was $77,600 in May 2021.1

There are a ton of different things you can do as an RN if you decide to get your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and pursue different advanced degrees. One of these options is to become a research nurse—also called a clinical research nurse. This role involves working within clinical research programs and helping to conduct clinical trials that develop and test new treatments and procedures.

It’s worth noting that the time it takes to become a nurse researcher is significant. Research nurses typically need at least two years of experience on top of their education, often more than that. Many research nurses will go on to earn graduate degrees. This isn’t typically an entry-level role, but one nurses can work toward as they advance in their careers.

What exactly is a research nurse, and what type of clinical research projects do they conduct? Here are 8 things you might do as a research nurse.

1. Help conduct clinical trials

It goes without saying that a huge part of a research nurse’s role is research. But what exactly are they researching?

Nurse researchers work with other nurses, doctors and medical researchers to conduct studies around various aspects of patient health. This can include researching specific illnesses like cancer or Alzheimer’s, experimenting with new treatments or procedures and testing different medications or pharmaceuticals.

Regardless of the type of trial a research nurse is working on, the end goal of clinical research nursing is always the same: to improve healthcare services, patient outcomes and discover potentially life-saving medical treatments and practices.

Research nurses may work as part of a nursing practice or with a clinical research coordinator and principal investigator to help design these studies, and they often play a central role in implementing and conducting them alongside clinical research associates.

Clinical research nurses work and participate in two main types of studies: quantitative studies and qualitative studies. Here’s the difference.

Quantitative studies

If you work as a research nurse, you will likely spend most of your time doing quantitative research. That’s because quantitative research focuses on results that can be empirically measured, such as numerical values and statistics.2

For example, a quantitative study of a new medication might measure how many days it takes a patient’s symptoms to disappear compared to the previously-used method.

Qualitative studies

Qualitative studies are less common in clinical research, but they can lead to valuable insights. They tend to be more holistic, helping researchers to understand a question from multiple angles beyond the numbers.

A qualitative clinical research study might focus on interviewing a group of patients about their experiences with a specific treatment plan. While these studies can certainly involve numbers and statistics, they also involve more subjective elements such as how a patient feels or individuals reporting a result.

2. Write grant applications for funding

While some a clinical research nurses may enter the specialization with prior grant writing experience, many learn it on the job.

Securing grants and funding for studies is a big part of what gets experimental research off the ground, and writing applications and proposals may be a responsibility of the research nurse on a research unit or trial team.

3. Recruit study participants

Finding the right candidates for a clinical trial is an integral part of study development and the clinical research process. Without research participants, a research nurse can’t implement a trial.

A clinical nurse researcher may help with this important process, working with a research nurse supervisor to follow the clinical trial’s protocol and eligibility criteria to understand who can participate.

Each study can include only people who meet the requirements, and the requirements are different for every trial. A clinical research nurse may help throughout the whole recruitment process, which typically includes the following steps, as outlined by a sample study in the National Library of Medicine:3

  1. Identify or source potential participants who may be eligible.
  2. Discuss all aspects of the trial with them, ensuring comprehension and voluntariness and obtaining informed consent for participation.
  3. Conduct a physical examination and screening procedures as mentioned in the protocol.
  4. Enroll the participant based on the eligibility criteria.

4. Provide participant care

Some studies call for higher levels of interaction with the patients participating in the trial. You may interview patients before a new procedure, supervise them throughout protocol implementation and provide any beside and clinical care that may be needed in different dedicated clinical research settings. This can include anything from taking vital signs to performing medical procedures.

Of course, as a research nurse, the type and level of direct patient care you’ll provide depends on the specifics of the study, but it’s likely that there would be a blend of the above—and much of your involvement is to act as a clinical research monitor and ensure that the correct study protocol is followed.

5. Perform record maintenance

Collecting and recording data for analysis is an integral part of any clinical trial. Studies require that someone monitor, record and report every patient’s progress after they’ve received a treatment or procedure, and this is something that may be done by a research nurse.

Research nurses can play an integral role in data collection and record maintenance, helping to uphold consistency in the nursing research and ensure that nothing is missed in the data collection process.

6. Write articles and clinical research reports

Once a medical research project has concluded, research nurses may write articles and research reports sharing their findings with other nurses, doctors and medical researchers in the healthcare community. These articles and reports vary depending on the specifics of the research study, and where they may be published—whether that’s in nursing journals, medical professional journals or other publications.

7. Submit and publish studies to medical journals

After a research nurse has helped complete an article or report on their study, they may be responsible for submitting the study to different medical journals and academic medical centers for publication.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), BMJ and JAMA Network® are a few examples of famous medical journals that research teams may submit their work for publication at. Research nurses who publish their work can get some extra recognition for their findings and potentially even secure more opportunities for future funding.

8. Present clinical research findings at medical conferences

In addition to getting published in journals like the ones listed above, research teams may also share their findings with the healthcare community by presenting at medical conferences. There are tons of medical conferences held each year for different specialties, and a research nurses play a role in securing these slots and presenting the findings alongside other clinical research professionals.

Discover more nursing careers and specialties

As you learn more about what research nurses do, know that the option to become a research nurse is only one among many. There are so many different pathways and specializations in the nursing field, and to becoming an RN BSN can open a whole range of opportunities for you.

Before pursuing an advanced degree, learn more about the benefits of getting your bachelor's degree in nursing through an accredited nursing program by reading “BSN Nursing: 5 Benefits to Earning a Bachelor's Degree.”


The role of a research nurse is not an entry-level position and typically requires extensive studies, which may include job-specific courses and additional nursing certifications. For further information on professional requirements, please contact the appropriate board or agency in your state of residence. Additional education, training, experience, and/or other eligibility criteria may apply.

Jama Network is a registered trademark of the American Medical Association (AMA).

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June, 2023] www.bls.gov/ooh Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries, and employment conditions in your area may vary.

2How to become a research nurse, Nursing World, [accessed 9/5/2023] https://www.nursingworld.org/resources/individual/how-to-become-a-research-nurse/

3Chaudhari, N., Ravi, R. et al. Recruitment and retention of the participants in clinical trials: Challenges and solutions (2020), National Library of Medicine [accessed June, 2023] doi: 10.4103/picr.PICR_206_19. Epub 2020 May 6. PMID: 32670830; PMCID: PMC7342338.

About the author

Hope Rothenberg

Hope Rothenberg is a creative copywriter with agency, in-house, and freelance experience. She's written about everything from area rugs to artificial intelligence, and a ton in between.

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