At the mention of a nurse, most people envision a hospital or a nursing home full of the elderly or sickly needing medical care. The truth is that nursing is a wide field that sometimes goes beyond the four walls of a hospital. A nurse researcher specializes in performing medical research. The role of a nurse researcher is as extensive as the title is. Actually, it is difficult to put a finger on what nurse researchers do but possible to highlight some of the main duties that they perform. Rarely does a single research role cover all the responsibilities of a research nurse. However, there are some common elements that most research roles share.
Nurse Researcher Roles
1. Protocol Development
Before a nurse researcher dives deep into a research project, either a clinical trial or a study, they first need to develop a study protocol. A clinical trial is whereby a study of an unlicensed drug takes place. Normally, the researchers test the drug on patients to determine its efficacy. This covers major highlights, such as, what is it that we are trying to determine, how should it be measured, what kind of tests will need to be taken by patients and in what amounts and at which point, will we need blood tests, what kind of clinical data will need to be collected, will the tests coincide with ordinary visits to the patients or will this call for extra visits.
Normally, a team is selected to come up with the protocol but it is very important that nurse researchers be involved in it as well as they are familiar with the patients. The team in this case usually has extensive experience and knowledge hence efficiently helping the researchers to gather the information that they will require in order to draw accurate conclusions from the said studies. They also need to find willing patients to participate in the study. If the patient demands are too high or their criteria for inclusion are too strict, or if they are likely to abandon the study before conclusion, they may need to replace the patients. There needs to be a proper balance on the benefits of the patient as well as the researchers.
Once the protocol of the study has been set, there needs to be a consent sheet as well as a Patient Information Sheet (PIS) drafted. The patient information sheet contains the data and information of all that is required by the law that the research team needs to be shared by the participants of the study. Usually, the research team will draft these documents simply because they understand the study better as well as the legislation and the regulations that dictate what constitutes what makes up an informed consent process. The research team is also in a better place to explain to the patients involved in the study what the study involves. They also help them understand the complex scientific and medical information.
Before nursing researchers commence on any study or recruit patients, bodies such as, the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency (MHRA), Ethics committees as well as the NHS R& D need to give their approval. Therefore, the researchers are required to fill out application forms and submit them to the relevant authorities for approval.
This is the duty of a research nurse. The choice of patient often depends on the kind of study taking place. This process is done in various ways, the nurses may choose to attend MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Team) meetings in order to determine the patients suitable for the current study. In this case, the care team attending to the patients can undertake a clinical trial as a care option for the chosen patients. Alternatively, researchers can recruit patients by screening hospital notes.
Once chosen, the researchers are obligated to explain all there is about the study so that the patients can make an informed decision on whether they wish to proceed or not. As much as these studies are essential, researchers also use these opportunities to come up with tools and tactics to keep their studies important to the care team. This motivates them to approach the patients with ease hence successful recruiting process. This is especially so because busy wards and clinics do not have the time to facilitate researchers hence deeming them as unimportant. An efficient nurse uses this opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding so that the importance of the research is understood by all parties involved for the purpose of facilitating excellence in healthcare.
Upon successful recruitment, the research nurse will follow the patient’s welfare and treatment through during the clinical trial. They will ensure that they take their medication on time, attend clinics as scheduled and follow all protocol as far as the study and their treatment is concerned. They also ensure that sufficient data collection is done on every visit. This is a critical step because if the data is tampered with or inconclusive then the study becomes null and void. This is wasteful on the money spent on the study, the patient’s time as well as those who were part of the study.
In these studies, the nurse researchers are basically looking to discover the efficacy of the drug as well as its side effects. If a drug is worthy, then its benefits should outweigh the side effects. If any side effects occur, it takes skill for the researchers to counter the side effects for the sake of the patient’s safety.
Tissue and Sample Collection/ Processing
Part of the study will occur in a laboratory where blood samples are taken for analysis
In many research roles, lab skills are often acquired by research nurses. Blood samples, biopsy tissues, urine and other matter are studied for analysis. This is a crucial stage as it will determine the accuracy of the results of the study when it comes to drawing conclusions.
A clinical research involves different experts, departments and agencies. However, the research nurse is at the center of it all as they are the point of contact for the patients involved. They are the point of triage for all the parties involved and have to answer questions that any of them may have. The role of a research nurse is vast so this is just an overview of that their job entails.