Career Series: Mid-Career

Career Transitions: Becoming a Clinical Research Nurse

This is part two of a three-part series on research careers.

By mid-career, nurses are sometimes looking for new challenges. However, not all nurses are interested in pursuing careers in administration. One path to consider is in clinical research.

Nurses play an essential role in the success of clinical research. Although a principal investigator (PI) has ultimate responsibility for any clinical research study, it is often a nurse who does a significant amount of the coordination and execution of the study. From recruiting and screening participants to collecting data, a nurse can play a pivotal role in human subject protection and compliance.

There are a number of ways that a nurse can become involved in research. A staff nurse may encounter an inpatient or outpatient who happens to be enrolled in a clinical study. At hospitals that are striving for or maintaining their Magnet status from the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center, nurses may be involved in research directly. At academic medical centers, where advanced nurse practitioners work closely with clinicians who are also investigators on research studies. Nurses can also serve as investigators or sub-investigators on research studies.

Such is the case with Radica Palmer, RN, a nurse practitioner at Northwell Health. Her role as a clinic nurse has evolved over the years, and has excelled in a leadership role in research for her department. Ms. Palmer’s experience brings a unique perspective to the research programs in which she is involved.

“Having clinical knowledge offers a great advantage to the PI,” says Ms. Palmer. “The nurse can gather valuable information from patients and share it with the investigator, who can then make important clinical decisions.” Working closely with and mentoring study coordinators, a research nurse is a valuable asset to the clinical research team. A research nurse is also able to develop relationships with patients, which opens up communication and is beneficial to the study as well as the patients.

The relationship that nurses cultivate with patients or study participants is extremely important. Participants may feel more comfortable speaking to a nurse, and this can lead to their providing more details about their health or involvement in the trial. These nuances can have a material impact on the trial and might not always come up during a clinical visit with the physician.

For nurses who are interested in advancing their career into research, there are a few requirements that will prepare them to play this role. Understanding the clinical trial process is essential. First, he or she should take courses in Human Subjects Research (HSR) and Good Clinical Practice (GCP). Depending on their interest, nurses may also explore courses in institutional review board administration, compliance or regulatory topics.

As clinical trials increase in complexity, nurses who are interested in expanding their careers have many opportunities to further their careers in research. Nurses who are interested in exploring a career in research can consider some of these online courses:

Human Subject Research

HSR provides foundational training in human subjects research and includes the historical development of human subject protections, ethical issues, and current regulatory and guidance information.

Good Clinical Practice

GCP consists of basic and refresher courses that provide essential good clinical practice training for research teams involved in clinical trials of drugs, biologics, and devices.

Clinical Research Coordinator

This course focuses on the operational and regulatory elements needed for the ethical conduct of clinical research.