History and Process of Nursing Research, Evidence-Based Nursing Practice, and Quantitative and Qualitative Research Process

Nursing Research: Understanding Methods for Best Practice



History of Research

Protection of Human Participants

History of Nursing Research

Nursing Research Agencies & Institutes


Research Process and Methodology

Relevance of Research to Nursing Practice

Nursing Research: Levels of Education

Reflective Summary

Key Terms


History and Process of Nursing Research, Evidence-Based Nursing Practice, and Quantitative and Qualitative Research ProcessBy June Helbig

“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” —Albert Einstein (WorkingMinds.com, n.d., para. 53).

Essential Questions

What is the history of human subject testing, and what has been its impact on current practices and informed consent?

Why is it important for nurses to use evidence-based practices?

Why is it important for nurses to perform research and contribute to generalizable knowledge?


Nurses strive to provide the best possible care to diverse clients under consistently changing conditions. From the medications administered to the type of dressing used to heal a wound, nurses apply procedures that have been tested through research and deemed appropriate according to evidence-based standards of practice. Through foundational knowledge related to research methods, translation of research data is used to improve nursing practice and, ultimately, patient outcomes. Therefore, nurses must become familiar with the specific language of scientific research and the research process.

Many historical events have shaped research practices, and guidelines have been developed to protect human subjects from inadvertent harm. Many nurses and physicians conduct research studies, but to do so, they must adhere to research practices that address ethical considerations for participants, ensure the integrity of the research process, and safeguard the public. This chapter outlines the historical events that have shaped modern research, providing a framework to introduce novice researchers to the foundations of research design and implementation.

History of Research

As health care professionals, nurses seek to provide their patients with the best possible health care. To determine which approaches to care result in the best possible care, the effectiveness of each approach specific to a chosen population must be investigated. The pursuit of knowledge is the basis for research. Researchers seek to find answers to various scientific questions, but there are the boundaries associated with the pursuit of knowledge.

Nazi Medical Experiments (1933-1945)

During World War II, German physicians conducted unethical experiments on thousands of human prisoners at the Nazi concentration camps. These experiments were performed without consent and many times without anesthesia. The most notorious of these experiments occurred at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp, called the killing center. Auschwitz, the largest of the concentration camps, was operational from 1940-1945. It was the site of medical experiments and various forms of research that were performed on infants, twins, and dwarfs. Forced sterilization and castration of adults occurred as well (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum [USHMM], n.d.a.).

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM, n.d.b), there were three categories of unethical medical experimentation, including “facilitating the survival of Axis military personnel,” (para. 2), testing different medications for illnesses and injuries, and advancing “the racial and ideological tenets of the Nazi worldview” (para. 4). The first category of experiments conducted at Dachau, another Nazi camp in nearby Germany, included high altitude experiments using low-pressure chambers, freezing experiments to find treatments for hypothermia, and various seawater experiments. Experiments for the second category involved injecting patients with various compounds to test treatments for contagious diseases, such as malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. Prisoners were also exposed to deadly gases such as phosgene and mustard gas. The third category of experiments included the “mass sterilization of Jews, Roma, and other groups Nazi leaders considered to be racially or genetically undesirable” (USHMM, n.d.b., para. 5). By the end of World War II, 6 million European Jews were murdered, and thousands of prisoners were forced to endure incredible pain and suffering without giving their consent for the acquisition of knowledge.

The Nazi physicians performed brutal medical experiments upon helpless concentration camp inmates. These acts of torture were characterized by several shocking features: (1) persons were forced to become subjects in very dangerous studies against their will; (2) nearly all subjects endured incredible suffering, mutilation, and indescribable pain; and (3) the experiments often were deliberately designed to terminate in a fatal outcome for their victims. (Cohen, n.d., para. 11)

The Nazi physicians were brought to justice before a military tribunal held in Nuremberg, Germany. Knowledge generated by the Nazi physicians exists today and can be used to generate new knowledge in several fields, but considerable debate surrounds the use of this information. Physicians and scientists who “have sought to use the Nazi research have … [examined at length] the social responsibility and potential abuses of science” (Cohen, n.d., para. 3). Researchers today must ask themselves whether it is appropriate to use the data.

Freezing Experiments

In another series of experiments, prisoners were placed into sub-zero water tanks to investigate how long pilots would survive if shot down over freezing waters. The Nazi physicians recorded data as prisoners were immersed and kept in frozen water for hours. “The Nazis meticulously recorded the changes in body temperature, heart rate, muscle response, and urine” (Cohen, n.d., para. 28). The data obtained described end-stage hypothermia in humans. Many years later, hypothermia research was performed involving cold-water survival suits to protect people from boating accidents in frigid waters and rewarming frozen victims of the cold. The scientists looking to save lives from hypothermia had concerns about whether or not they should use the data generated by the Nazi experiments. The only data currently available regarding extreme hypothermia is the data collected by Nazi physicians

High-Altitude Experiments

To simulate high altitude conditions, Nazi physicians used decompression chambers. The chambers simulated altitudes as high as 68,000 feet. The physicians monitored the subjects’ physiological responses as they succumbed to death. The victims’ brains were dissected while they were still alive to demonstrate that high-altitude sickness consisted of the formation of tiny air bubbles in the blood vessels of the brain. After death, the brains were studied, and additional data was obtained (Cohen, n.d.).

Experiments on Twins

Twins were studied extensively in the concentration camps. Mengele studied identical twins by injecting substances into one twin and when that twin died, he would kill the other twin and look for differences upon autopsy. Mengele was obsessed with “the Nazi ideology of racial purity and Aryanism led him to believe that he could unlock the secrets of human reproduction and multiple births” (Cohen, n.d., para. 24) through his research.

Whether the data gathered from these studies will help save lives in the present is unknown. The experiments cannot be replicated, and the integrity of the data itself may be in question. Applying data obtained in unethical studies also warrants consideration toward the victims and their families. As a direct result of these atrocities, regulations guiding research practice have been written.

Nuremberg Code

On October 18, 1945, 22 of Nazi Germany’s political, military, and economic leaders were brought to trial in Nuremberg, Germany for war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For the first time in history, an international military tribunal (IMT), composed of representatives from the Allied countries as well as representatives from Nazi-occupied countries, united to seek justice for victims.

The Nuremberg trials (see Figure 1.1) lasted from October 18, 1945 through October 1, 1946. All judgments against the Nazi leaders were completed on October 1, 1946. Of the 22 Nazi leaders placed on trial, “twelve were sentenced to death, three to life imprisonment, four to imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years, and three were acquitted” (USHMM, n.d.c., para. 3). Through the course of the trial, the IMT was able to define the criminality of war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In a series of 12 additional trials, more than 100 defendants were tried for war crimes.

Figure 1.1

Defendants at the Nuremberg, Germany War Crimes Trial

Photo of the defendants at the Nuremberg, Germany war crimes trial.

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Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration.

The doctors’ trial followed the trial of the Nazi leaders. The question of medical experimentation on human beings was discussed. At the time, no rules or guidelines existed to govern research on human subjects. In April of 1947, a list of guidelines discussing voluntary consent as well as the rights, safety, and well-being of those participating in research studies was prepared and submitted to the United States Counsel for War Crimes. Initially, this list was called Permissible Medical Experiments, and it contained six points defining legitimate research. Shortly thereafter, the six points were expanded to 10 and was given the title the Nuremberg Code.

The Nuremberg Code was a landmark document and the first internationally accepted code to govern scientific research. Among the key tenants was informed consent and voluntary participation, which forms the basis for ethical conduct of research today. According to the principle of informed consent, human subjects must be informed of the purposes of the study, the possible risks and benefits associated with the study, and maintain the right of refusal at any time even after a study has been initiated. All forms of research must be conducted with integrity, transparency, confidentiality, and minimal risk to participants.

Nuremberg Code

The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.

The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.

The experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.

No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.

The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.

Proper preparations should be made, and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.

The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.

During the course of the experiment the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.

During the course of the experiment the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probably cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgment required of him that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject (USHMM, n.d.d).

Declaration of Helsinki (1964)

In June of 1964, the “World Medical Association developed the Declaration of Helsinki as a statement of ethical principles to provide guidance to physicians and other participants in medical research involving human subjects” (World Health Organization, 2001, p. 373). The Declaration of Helsinki assured that protections of basic rights were extended to all groups, regardless of whether the group consisted of vulnerable populations. Historically, vulnerable populations included minority groups, prisoners, women, and children. Since the Declaration of Helsinki, the requirement is to state why any group, including vulnerable populations, were to be excluded from the research trial. Transparency is important to conducting ethical research. With the advancement of biomedical research, the public, as well as the human subject, must be knowledgeable of available research trials as well as the results of human subject research.

The Declaration of Helsinki continues to be an important document for research oversight. It mandates that not only are the successes discussed, but the failures are acknowledged as well. People have the right to know the inconclusive results. “The scientific enterprise must openly acknowledge that science improves through both failure and success” (Ndebele, 2013, para. 6). Researchers must be transparent with human subjects regarding the possible risks and benefits of the study, so the human subject can make an informed decision on whether to participate in the study. Part of the informed consent process involves giving the human subject sufficient information in a nonthreatening environment. The human subject must not be coerced or intimidated to participate in the research trial and must be given adequate time to make a decision. The researchers must respect the subject’s autonomy, ensuring that participation in the study is a choice. Informed consent is not only about signing a consent document, but it is a process that lasts from the beginning until the end of the study. The human subject can leave the study at any time without having any obligation to the person conducting the research study.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study (1932–1972)

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, officially titled the “Tuskegee Study of the Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” involved 600 African American men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017).

Figure 1.2

Physician with Tuskegee Study Participant

Photo of a physician drawing blood from patient in the Tuskegee study.

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Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance. Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years. (CDC, 2017, para 2)

In 1972, the Associated Press reported on the Tuskegee Study, leading to public outcry. A review of the study was done by an advisory panel appointed by the assistant secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs. The panel found the men who had participated in the study had done so voluntarily; however, the panel found that the researchers never informed the men of the real purpose of the study, and the men were never given the appropriate treatment for syphilis even though one existed. In 1973, a lawsuit was filed for the participants and their families, and a year later, the parties reached $10 million settlement. By 1975, the men and their descendants were promised lifetime medical benefits and burial services. In 1997, President Bill Clinton offered a public apology to all the men and their families for the horrible treatment they received by the United States government (CDC, 2017).

Figure 1.3

President Bill Clinton and Tuskegee Study Patient Herman Shaw

Photo of President Bill Clinton and Herman Shaw, a patient in the Tuskegee study.

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Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Willowbrook Study (mid 1950s to early 1970s)

In 1942, the Willowbrook School, a state school for the mentally disabled, was built on Staten Island, New York. The school housed 6,000 mentally handicapped children in a facility built to house 4,000 children. Many of the residents were orphaned with no one to speak for them or oversee the care they received. Hepatitis ran rampant at the overcrowded facility. In addition to poor conditions, medical researchers Saul Krugman and Robert McCollum carried out their own experiments there from the late 1950s to the 1970s, injecting hepatitis into the children identified as “mentally defective” to observe the natural course of the illness. “The children were deliberately infected with hepatitis in order to test the effects of gamma globulin, a practice justified by the researchers on the grounds that the children would probably contract the disease in any case” (Bence, 2011, para. 5). The study continued for 15 years and was officially closed in 1987 following public investigations of the mistreatment of children residing at the Willowbrook School. One of the most important consequences of the study was the development of the National Research Act of 1974, which requires all research institutions receiving federal support to establish institutional review boards (IRBs) to review and approve research.

Brooklyn’s Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital (1960s)

Brooklyn’s Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital (JCDH) in New York, was the site of another unethical research trial. Elderly patients and those in need of long-term care were the primary patient population of JCDH. Dr. Chester Southam had suggested to physicians associated with JCDH “a collaborative research project with the JCDH. Southam hoped to initiate an evaluation of the immunologic status of patients with chronic non-neoplastic diseases, as revealed by promptness of rejection of subcutaneous cancer-cell homografts” (Hornblum, 2013, para. 5). Without informed consent, Southam injected live cancer cells into 22 elderly and long-term patients of JCDH to study how those patients reacted to the injections. Southam wanted to research if healthy patients would react the same way as those that were ill. Southam told the human subjects in the study they were receiving live human cells that were growing in a test tube. Southam conducted the study, but he asked three of his colleagues, Dr. Avir Kagan, Dr., David Leichter, and Dr. Perry Frersko, to join him in his research (Hornblum, 2013). Kagan, Leichter, and Frersko all refused to take part in the experiment and complained to the New York State Board of Regents. The three doctors thought Southam was acting like a Nazi physician by using human beings as guinea pigs. In 1963, the New York State Board of Regents found Southam guilty of fraud and unprofessional conduct (Hornblum, 2013).

Protection of Human Participants

The research experiments described in this chapter demonstrate the potential for harm when research is practiced without consideration to human protections, in particular the protection of vulnerable groups. In 1962, Congress passed the Kefauver-Harris amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that required new drugs to be evaluated for safety and required informed consent when testing investigational drugs (National Academies Press, 2004b). Informed consent is not only a document the research subject signs; it is an ongoing process. The informed consent process remains ongoing for as long as the subject is participating in the study. The informed consent document must contain the purpose of the study, the risks and possible benefits of the study, the length of time participation is expected, and alternative treatments the subject can choose. Informed consent is ongoing, meaning the participant can withdraw from the study at any time.

Belmont Report (1978)

In 1974, the National Research Act was established, which brought about the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The commission provides ethical and policy analysis related to human research, including the Belmont Report (National Academies Press, 2004a). The Belmont Report “identified three fundamental ethical principles applicable to research with humans—respect for persons, beneficence, and justice—which translated respectively into provisions for informed consent, assessment of risk and potential benefits, and selection of participants” (National Academies Press, 2004a, p. 6).

Figure 1.4

Fundamental Principles of the Belmont Report

Image of scale of justice depicting the balance of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.

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Consent should be obtained from fully informed participants and special consideration should be given to vulnerable persons. Vulnerable populations are groups of people who may lack the capacity to give consent or lack the capacity to understand. The informed consent must fully explain the study, and the participant should be given the opportunity to ask the researcher questions. Giving informed consent to participate is totally voluntary, and the participant can withdraw from the study without explanation at any time. All human beings have right to autonomy. There are vulnerable populations that, at times, must be excluded from participating in a research study. Those who are incapable of consent could have the informed consent of their legal guardian. All approvals for research studies are obtained from an IRB or ethics board to include vulnerable populations, such as:

Racial or ethnic minorities;


Pregnant women;

Human fetuses;


Human in vitro fertilization;


Military persons and students in hierarchical organizations;

Terminally ill, comatose, and physically and intellectually challenged individuals;

Institutionalized, elderly individuals, and visual or hearing impaired;

Socioeconomically disadvantaged;



Prisoners; and

LGBTQI persons (Waisel, 2013).

Belmont Report: Basic Ethical Principles

Respect for Persons

Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection. The principle of respect for persons thus divides into two separate moral requirements: the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services [HHS], n.d., para. 14)


Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being. Such treatment falls under the principle of beneficence. The term “beneficence” is often understood to cover acts of kindness or charity that go beyond strict obligation. In this document, beneficence is understood in a stronger sense, as an obligation. Two general rules have been formulated as complementary expressions of beneficent actions in this sense: (1) do not harm and (2) maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms. (HHS, n.d., para. 19)


Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of “fairness in distribution” or “what is deserved.” An injustice occurs when some benefit to which a person is entitled is denied without good reason or when some burden is imposed unduly. Another way of conceiving the principle of justice is that equals ought to be treated equally. (HHS, n.d., para. 23)

Institutional Review Board

An IRB or ethics board is an “appropriately constituted group that has been formally designated to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects. In accordance with FDA regulations, an IRB has the authority to approve, require modifications in (to secure approval), or disapprove research” (U.S. Food and Drug Administration [USDA], 2018, para. 2). Their role is to ensure that the rights of research participants are protected and that the investigator has complied with the rules and regulations of conducting research within the United States. The IRB is composed of at least five men and women with varying backgrounds and expertise, one of whom must not have a scientific background.

Code of Federal Regulations

The Federal Register, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration, published a set of general rules and regulations, called the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs). There are 50 titles, representing areas of federal regulation. The first set of CFRs was published in 1938. The titles of interest in research for the protection of human subjects include:

45 CFR 46, Protection of Human Subjects

21 CFR 50, Informed Consent

21 CFR 56, Institutional Review Boards

Table 1.1

Code of Federal Regulations

Code Title Description
45 CFR 46 Protection of Human Subjects Offers basic protections to human subjects involved in both biomedical and behavioral research conducted or supported by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS); risks to subjects are minimized; selection of subjects is equitable (HHS, 2009)
21 CFR 50 Informed Consent “No investigator may involve a human being as a subject in research covered by these regulations unless the investigator has obtained the legally effective informed consent of the subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative” (USDA, 2017a, para. 1)
21 CFR 56 Institutional Review Boards IRB is an appropriately constituted group that has been formally designated to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects. In accordance with FDA regulations, an IRB has the authority to approve, require modifications, or disapprove research. This group review serves an important role in the protection of the rights and welfare of human research subjects (USDA, 2018, para. 2).

The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) was established in 2000 to “protect human subjects in biomedical and behavioral research and to provide leadership for all federal agencies that conduct or support human subjects research under the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, also known as the Common Rule” (HHS, 2016a, para. 1). The Common Rule is the U.S. policy for the protection of human subjects and was published in 1991. “The Common Rule outlines the basic provisions for Institutional Review Boards, informed consent, and Assurances of Compliance” (HHS, 2016b, para. 2).

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was legislation passed to protect patient data and included security provisions for safeguarding medical information. This federal law or privacy rule provides people with rights over their health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at or use this information. “The Privacy Rule applies to all forms of individuals’ protected health information, whether electronic, written, or oral. The Security Rule is a Federal law that requires security for health information in electronic form” (HHS, 2017b, para. 1).

History of Nursing Research

Florence Nightingale was the first nurse researcher. Her first research study took place during the Crimean War in 1854. The war took place on the outskirts of Constantinople, Turkey. Nightingale started collecting data about the injured soldiers, including information about their injuries and whether they died. She took what she learned, applied her knowledge of statistics to the data she collected, and came up with some very significant results. The statistics showed that hundreds of the soldiers were dying from communicable and infectious diseases. She took her knowledge about cleanliness and the importance of a clean environment and applied it to current war environment. Nightingale believed if the environment was kept clean, the soldiers would not be exposed to infection or communicable diseases (Karimi & Alavi, 2015). With the knowledge gained from collecting data on the soldiers and their causes of death, Nightingale saved the lives of many men and women. In 1859, Florence Nightingale published Notes on Nursing, which described how environment can affect and promote health. This was basically the first nursing research article ever published. It took many years before any more nursing research was performed. Twenty years later, the committee for the Study of Nursing Education issued the Goldmark Report, which “identified educational inadequacies of nurses and believed that advanced educational preparation was essential for nursing. As more nurses received university-based education, studies were conducted concerning nursing students—their characteristics, problems, and satisfactions—became more numerous” (Nieswiadomy, 2014., p. 1-1.). Still, until the 1930s, nursing as a profession did not made any effort to promote research.

Nursing Research in the 20th Century

In the 1930s, research studies performed by nurses were beginning to be published, but the studies’ sole focus was on nursing education. The Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) honor society, committed to educational improvement and scholarship, believed in the advancement of nursing research and created a foundation for research grants for nurses (Sigma Global Nursing Excellence, 2018). In 1936, STTI became the first organization to award money to nurses to perform research.

For many years, nursing education and how much education was necessary for nurses to receive were the only topics that were studied. In 1948, Ester Lucile Brown published a report on the inadequacies of nursing education and found that it should occur in the collegiate setting. In the same report, Brown encouraged nurses to learn about conducting research. In the 1950s, a surge in nursing research led to the creation of the Nursing Research journal, which was first published in 1952. Nursing Research provided a way for nurses conducting research to disseminate the information obtained from their studies. An editorial in the first issue cited its two purposes: “To inform members of the nursing profession and allied professions of the results of scientific studies in nursing, and to stimulate research in nursing” (Sarkis & Conners, 1986, p. 122).

Around the same time nursing began publishing information from research studies, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research increased funding for the American Nurses Association (ANA). With the increase in funding, the American Nurses Foundation was established. The focus of the foundation was to promote nursing research. By the 1960s, nursing leaders were concerned with the lack of nursing research, so several professional nursing organizations were established, such as the Western Interstate Council for Higher Education in Nursing. This organization focused solely on nursing research and facilitating resource sharing among higher education systems of the West. In 1965, the ANA began sponsoring nursing research conferences and established the first national nursing archives at Boston University’s Mugar Memorial Library (Murphy, 1993).

By the 1970s, there was substantial growth of nursing studies and discussion regarding research. There were also new journals that reported on nursing research, such as Advances in Nursing Science, Research in Nursing & Health, and the Western Journal of Nursing Research. In the United States, there was an emphasis on research and the need for evidence to support the utilization of research findings. There was also an increase in the number of nurse researchers both nationally and internationally. “The Workgroup of European Nurse Researchers was established in 1978 to develop greater communication and opportunities for systematic partnerships among the 25 European national nurses’ associations involved” (Polit & Beck, 2008, p. 8). In 1972, the ANA established the Commission on Research and the Council of Nurse Researchers.

In 1972, the Council of Nurse Researchers held its first conference in Denver, Colorado. Its purpose was to advance research activities among nurses. The members of this council were composed of nurses who were members of the ANA and had earned master’s level degrees or higher. The members believed in the importance of exchanging ideas and recognizing the importance of research. The conference gave nurse researchers a platform in which to share and discuss research findings.

Nursing Research Agencies & Institutes

Nursing research began to change in the 1980s when the journals Conduct and Utilization of Research in Nursing and the Annual Review of Nursing Research began publication. Through these journals devoted to publishing nursing research findings, nursing research was given more visibility in the national spotlight. By 1986, the National Center for Nursing Research (NCNR) was established as part of the National Institutes of Health by congressional mandate. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the establishment of the NCNR, but through the lobbying efforts of nurse-scientists, Congress overrode the veto. The purpose of the NCNR was to support nursing research related to patient care (Polit & Beck, 2008).

Photo of health care worker using a computer tablet in a procedure room.

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In the late 1980s, the McMaster Medical School in Canada designed a clinical learning strategy that was called evidence-based medicine (EBM). EBM supported the view that research findings were better than the opinions of experts. In 1989, the U.S. government established the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research to support research conducted to improve the quality of care and safety for the patient. Evidence-based practices (EBPs) are now utilized to guide patient care. In 1993, the NCNR became the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), one of 27 institutes within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There are several new journals being established in response to the growth of nursing research. There are also in-depth nursing research studies being conducted and published to contribute to generalizable knowledge.

Research Agencies & Institutes

There are many agencies under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that provide oversight and funding for nursing research (see Table 1.2). The two main agencies that will be discussed are the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality (AHRQ) and the NIH. Each institute under the umbrella of the NIH conducts and supports research, research training, and dissemination of information. It is through the dissemination of research information that the full potential of EBP can be realized. Dissemination occurs when research findings are received and communicated to health care providers.

Table 1.2

Research Agencies and Institutes Associated with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality (AHRQ)
Agency/Institute Year Established
National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC) 1998
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Agency/Institute Year Established
National Cancer Institute 1937
National Eye Institute (NEI) 1968
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) 1948
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) 1989
National Institute on Aging (NIA) 1974
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) 1970
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) 1948
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) 1986
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) 2000
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) 1962
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) 1988
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) 1948
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) 1950
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 1974
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) 1969
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) 1962
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 1949
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) 1993
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) 1950
National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) 1986
National Library of Medicine (NLM) 1956

Note. Adapted from “Research at HHS Operating Divisions,” by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2015.


Knowledge and acquiring knowledge is essential for nursing research. Performing research, whether it is about nursing practice or patient care, is all about the acquisition and dissemination of new knowledge. The role of the nurse continues to evolve as nurses’ work in many different settings with different responsibilities. “Although each role carries different responsibilities, the primary goal of a professional nurse remains the same: to be the client’s advocate and provide optimal care on the basis of evidence obtained through research” (Tingen, Burnett, Murchison, & Zhu, 2009, para. 2).

Empirical knowledge is knowledge acquired through experimentation and observation. Nurses acquire new knowledge by generating and disseminating information learned through research. Nurses perform research studies for many reasons. More and more nurses are moving away from the bedside and working in the community to prevent illnesses. Evidence-based profession is one of the biggest changes for nursing research. Clinicians and practitioners are becoming more aware of the role research plays in enhancing knowledge for the benefit of the patient and the nurse. Research reaches the global nursing community and can potentially influence practice at more than a local level (Haigh, Smith, Gelling, Barnason, & Jackson, 2015). “Nursing research is vital to the practice of professional nursing, and the importance of its inclusion during undergraduate instruction cannot be overemphasized” (Tingen et al., 2009, para. 5).

Intuitive Insight and Understanding

There are situations in which nurses may have an intuition or insight that, when used, leads to understanding about a particular problem. “Intuition has been understood as an experience-based and gradual process, whereas insight is regarded as a genuinely discontinuous phenomenon” (Zander, Ollinger, & Volz, 2016, para. 1). Nurses can contribute ideas through a combination of both personal and profession experiences. It is through different ways of thinking that possible solutions to problems can be found. Awareness of a problem through insight or intuition can lead to experimental designs used to gain empirical evidence. Performing research through experimental methods or data collected via observation creates empirical evidence or empirical knowledge. By sensing the correct solution without solid data or reasons is sometimes the way new ideas are born and new evidence is found.

Research Process and Methodology

When nursing professionals perform research, a basic, 10-step process is used (see Table 1.3). Once a hypothesis is developed, nurse researchers make decisions about the approach necessary to carry out the research. The outcomes of research aim to answer specific questions about the nature of things in the world around us, individual and collective experiences, and that which we can observe.

Table 1.3

Basic Research Process

Step 1 Develop a hypothesis.
Step 2 Perform literature review to support the problem being investigated.
Step 3 Determine the research design (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods).
Step 4 Determine participant selection, treatment or procedure to be studied, any instruments or surveys to be used, and methods or type of analysis to be performed.
Step 5 Determine threats to internal and external validity.
Step 6 Collect and organize data.
Step 7 Analyze data.
Step 8 Interpret the results and data analysis.
Step 9 Publish results.
Step 10 Disseminate the information, contributing to nursings’ body of knowledge

Evidence-Based Practices

EBP is the clinical application or utilization of research (see Figure 1.5). “Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a problem-solving approach to the delivery of health care that integrates the best evidence from studies and patient care data with clinician expertise and patient preferences and values” (American Journal of Nursing, 2016, para. 1). Nurses use EBP to provide patients with safe, quality care and to improve outcomes. When developing EBP, one is looking at research already conducted. The nurse must first develop a PICOT statement or question (see Table 1.4). The question can be associated with either a quality improvement project or lead to EBP. When formulating a PICOT question for an EBP project, the nurse researcher must gather information and have an idea as to why the study should be performed. After the PICOT is developed, the nurse researcher must decide what information is needed to answer the question.

Figure 1.5

Evidence-Based Practice

Figure depicting the three elements of evidence-based practice: best research evidence, clinical expertise, and patient values.

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Table 1.4

PICOT Question

P Patients/problem What is the problem and/or the patient population being studied?
I Intervention Will a new medication be prescribed? Will there be a change in a treatment or a procedure?
C Comparison Will it be compared to a routine drug, treatment, or procedure?
O Outcome What is to be accomplished? What are the desired outcomes?
T Time For how long will the data will be collected?

PICOT Example

Gina, a BSN-prepared RN, is the manager of the geriatric unit 3-South. In the past 3 months, the 3-South unit has had 5 patients develop sacral pressure ulcers. The patients are turned every 2 hours and this practice and frequency is documented. The number of hospital-acquired pressure ulcers must be decreased. Gina believes if patients are turned more frequently, such as every 90 minutes instead of every 2 hours, there will be fewer pressure ulcers. Gina determines the following factors to develop a PICOT question:

Patients/problem = Patients in the 3-South unit who require turning and positioning

Intervention = Turned and positioned every 90 minutes

Comparison = Patients who are turned every 2 hours

Outcome = No pressure ulcers

Time = 3 months

Based on this information, Gina develops a PICOT question: Will patients who are turned every 90 minutes instead of every 2 hours be free of pressure ulcers?

Check for Understanding

Nurses are unhappy with the poor patient satisfaction scores on 3-North. Edward, a BSN-prepared RN and manager of 3-North, knows his nurses work hard, but the patient scores are low. Edward wonders if patient satisfaction scores will improve if he or the other unit manager makes daily rounds on all patients. Edward decides to perform an EBP project on leader rounding and the effect on patient satisfaction scores. Edward goes to the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) and asks if it is okay if they change their routine to improve patient satisfaction scores. Edward gets the okay from his CNO to begin his project. He can now submit it to the IRB for approval if required for this quality improvement project.

Develop a PICOT question for this scenario.

Research Designs

Systematic reviews are literature reviews that summarize evidence by identifying, selecting, assessing, and synthesizing the findings of similar but separate studies” (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [AHRQ], 2018, para. 9). Literature reviews are reviews of published research findings conducted to gather information to support the researchers’ hypothesis. It is considered a summary of the current body of knowledge about the area that is being investigated. A literature review is a necessary step of the scientific method, which is the gold standard for performing research. A systematic process when performing a literature review is to perform a critical appraisal of the articles that support the researchers’ hypothesis. “A systematic review summarizes the results of available carefully designed healthcare studies (controlled trials) and provides a high level of evidence on the effectiveness of healthcare interventions” (Cochrane Consumer Network, n.d., para. 1). This type of review is regarded as the best research evidence.

The critical appraisal is used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the article selected for the literature review. When evidence is gathered, the researcher performs a critical appraisal of the “study to ensure its credibility and clinical significance. It is important to determine not only what was done, but how well it was done” (Connor, 2014, para. 15).

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is performed by evaluating numbers and numeric variables that result in measurable data. When conducting a quantitative research study, the researcher may use deductive reasoning to develop an idea. Deductive reasoning or “deductive approach is concerned with developing a hypothesis based on an existing theory and then designing a research strategy to test the hypothesis” (Dudovskiy, 2018, para. 1). Quantitative research starts with a hypothesis, and data is collected and analyzed to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Descriptive, correlational, quasi-experimental, and experimental research are the types of research designs that can be used to conduct quantitative research.

Descriptive research is the systematic collection of data to describe the variable, characteristics of a population, or current phenomena being identified. When conducting a descriptive research study, one collects the data first, and after the results are analyzed, then a hypothesis surrounding the variables is formed. “Descriptive research studies cannot test or verify the research problem statistically” (Research Methodology, n.d., para. 8). Performing a case study is conducting descriptive research.

Correlational research looks at the association or relationship between variables and may identify the relationship between the variables. Correlational research identifies trends or patterns between the variables. This type of research is nonexperimental. A correlational study can be simple, comparative, longitudinal (i.e., collecting data over time) or cross-sectional (i.e., collecting data at one time). The data collected can be retrospective or prospective. Retrospective is looking back and collecting data from old records, whereas prospective collection is the start of collecting data on the topic. The data collected can then be used to formulate a theory (Kowalczyk, n.d.).

Quasi-experimental research can identify why certain things happen. Quasi-experimental research looks for a correlational relationship between receiving a treatment and not receiving a treatment. Quasi-experimental research is a nonexperimental research design.

Experimental research is conducted to evaluate an experimental medication, treatment, or procedure. When performing experimental research, the independent variable is manipulated to find out the effect on the dependent variable. Randomization is also used in experimental research designs. Experimentation can take the form of trial and error. Trial and error occurs when various methods are used until the results obtained are the desired results (Child Care & Early Education Research Connections, 2018).

Qualitative Research

A traditional qualitative research design is performed by evaluating nonnumeric variables. Data are collected through descriptive characteristics that cannot be measured with numbers. Qualitative research may be used to gain understanding of different cultures, traditions, behaviors, and/or customs. The social sciences as well as nursing are some of the disciplines that use qualitative research methods. Qualitative research designs use more of an inductive methodology than quantitative research. The inductive reasoningprocess uses open-ended questions and observations to identify patterns or commonalities.

At times, qualitative research is performed either by observation or interview (see Figure 1.6), which can create an enormous amount of collected data. Many times, the interview is recorded and must be transcribed for data analysis, which has been simplified with available technology and word recognition programs. Authority is a common concept associated with qualitative research. After analyzing the data, the researcher can become an authority on the topic that was studied.

Figure 1.6

Qualitative Research

Figure depicting the different types of qualitative data-collection methods/tools, including online forums, online communities, web surveys, focus groups, and depth interviews.

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There are several different types of qualitative studies that can be performed, including phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, exploratory-descriptive, historical, and case study.

Phenomenology research is used to study people through their lived experiences. Data is usually collected via interview. Words rather than numbers are analyzed. A construct is the personal characteristic to be assessed when measuring behavioral outcomes.

Grounded theory research is the collection and analysis of data from interviews and/or observation.

Ethnography research is the study of people and cultures, many times, by observation.

Exploratory-descriptive research is used to describe and document various aspects of an event. This type of research design describes what happened and categorizes the data to perform research.

Historical research examines past events to make a prediction about future events by performing a systematic collection of data to examine the past to learn about the future.

Case study research is an in-depth look at a particular problem or illness. The case study usually involves one particular case or episode.

Mixed Methods

Mixed methods is a research design that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Nurses and other health care professionals, such as social workers and psychologists, may use mixed methods. This type of research study is common in health care because emotions and feelings may play a part in the study being performed; love, anger, or pain cannot easily be quantified. As explained previously, qualitative research can be performed by observation, and the words the participants speak are the data.

Levels of Best Research Evidence

Each type of research study performed can be rated based on the level of evidence obtained. There is a hierarchy with regard to the way in which the research was performed. Randomized control trials (RCTs) are usually rated the highest because of randomization and/or blinding (see Figure 1.7). There can be two or more groups in RCTs; one group in the study is always the control group, receiving the routine drug, treatment, or procedure, and the other is the experimental group, receiving the experimental drug, treatment, or procedure.

In double-blind studies, no one knows who was in the experimental group, leading to unbiased results. Rigor is the accuracy and consistency in data collection. A study is said to have rigor when there is a high level of attention to detail. When rigor is maintained, the findings are proven to be true and reliable. When findings are proven to be true and reliable, the researcher can make an inference or draw a conclusion on the premise that rigor was maintained. Even though RCTs are rated the highest quality, one must continue to look at the evidence before a decision is made on whether to incorporate its use.

Figure 1.7

Levels of Evidence

Figure depicting the different levels for the quality of evidence.

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Sampling is the process of selecting the study population or study sample. When selecting the study sample, the investigator must have a target population in mind, and the population selected must be appropriate to the drug, treatment, and/or procedure being studied. If the researcher wants to study a new baby formula, adults between the ages of 30 and 50 would not be appropriate. The study sample selected must meet the predetermined characteristic inclusion criteria, which is part of a research protocol. The inclusion criteria define the study population to be selected.

Population Selection Example

Problem: Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers (HAPU).

Inclusion Criteria: Men and women 60–90 years old

Intervention: Skin protectant dressing

Explanation: The nurse investigator has the opportunity to try out a new type of skin protectant dressing. The dressing can be used on part of the population or all of a population. The investigator would not choose young adults who have good skin turgor and excellent mobility because they would not benefit from the intervention or meet criteria for a participant in a study for poor skin turgor. The investigator would choose more of an elderly population with limited mobility and poor skin turgor.


Variables can be anything that can vary and may not always have a numerical value. There are three different types of variables: dependent, independent, and extraneous.

Dependent variables are what is being measured in a research study. The dependent variable is dependent on the independent variable. The dependent variable changes only in relation to the independent variable.

Independent variables can be manipulated to determine the dependent variables’ value. The independent variable is usually the drug, treatment, and/or procedure being investigated. An independent variable can stand alone.

Extraneous variables were not foreseen or known at the beginning of the study in progress.

Constructs are the personal characteristic to be assessed when measuring behavioral outcomes. The construct can be an idea, person, event, object, or anything that the investigator is interested in studying. Constructs are the building blocks of a theory.

Evidence-Based Guidelines

In 1984, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) was established. The task force was an independent group comprised of 16 volunteers who had medical and/or nursing backgrounds. They worked together to enhance evidence-based medicine to improve the health of all Americans. The USPSTF would make evidence-based recommendations about preventative services such as screenings, preventative medications, and counseling. Between 1992 and 1996, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, which is now the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), sponsored the development of a series of 19 clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) (AHRQ, 2014). The guidelines are outdated, but the topics themselves are very current. Many of the current initiatives for quality health care are the same today.

Clinical Practice Guidelines

CPGs for nursing are statements developed so nurses can easily and consistently use EBP. “Guidelines translate best evidence into best practice. A well-crafted guideline promotes quality by reducing healthcare variations, improving diagnostic accuracy, promoting effective therapy, and discouraging ineffective—or potentially harmful—interventions” (Rosenfeld & Shiffman, 2009, para. 1). There may be many ways to do something, but when research produces evidence, and the evidence leads to safe, quality care, guidelines are created regarding best practice.

Identifying and establishing EBP within the nursing profession is paramount to advancing the profession of nursing. Currently, clinicians are generating empirical knowledge through clinical expertise. Nurses’ proficiency in research, conducting research, and using EBP is ongoing. Nurses are moving from novice to expert through lifelong learning and continuing education. Nurses are returning to school to fulfill the recommendations of The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report (Institute of Medicine, 2011). One of the recommendations is for nurses to achieve higher levels of education and training. Part of continuing education is learning about how to conduct research so that the best research evidence is transferred to practice.

Relevance of Research to Nursing Practice

Nursing research has the potential to influence future nursing practices and improve patient outcomes by acquiring knowledge through research. The nursing profession has always sought to improve care provided to patients, patient outcomes, and clinical practices. These goals can be reached through continuing education and performing research. By obtaining advanced degrees and becoming nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, nurses will advance the profession of nursing through scientific inquiry. “The findings of such scientific inquiry may also help shape health policy and contribute to global healthcare. Nursing professionals are committed to the health and well-being of everyone. The research they conduct often has lasting impacts” (University of North Carolina Wilmington, 2016, para. 2).

According to the NINR, preventing disease and disability, managing symptoms of illness, and enhancing end-of-life care is what nursing research is all about. Nurses will build the foundation on which quality care is provided. Advances in technology have been generating massive amounts of research data. Nurse scientists are using and generating complex data sets to promote the health of individuals and communities. Patients’ needs are becoming more complex, and nursing can use research to affect patient outcomes. It is important for the BSN-prepared nurse to have knowledge and learn about research in order to understand current issues that affect patients as well as nurses.

Forces Driving Research Agendas

One of the driving forces of recent research agendas is the need to improve patient outcomes. There are pay-for-performance initiatives that motivate many organizations to find ways to improve patient outcomes. Hospitals are collecting and reporting patient outcomes to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on a monthly basis. CMS requires hospitals to meet predetermined safety indicators, such as patient falls, hospital-acquired pressure ulcers, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, and health-care-associated infections (HAIs). How well the hospital was able to meet its goal determines the percentage of reimbursement received from CMS. Hospitals are realizing that by investing in nursing, patient outcomes may improve, which will ultimately benefit health care organizations. Research is needed to find ways to improve patient outcomes. Some important nursing research evidence has already reached the bedside.

HAIs have been a priority for hospitals since pay-for performance was initiated. Nursing has stepped up and started conducting research studies to find new and innovative ways to prevent HAIs. Together, with other health care disciplines, great strides have been made in preventing HAIs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a 50% drop in central line-associated bloodstream infections from 2008 to 2016. There have also been decreases in the rates of catheter-associated urinary tract infections and surgical site infections (CDC, n.d.).

Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN)

The Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), began in 2005. QSEN initiatives aim to incorporate safety and quality competencies related to knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSA) into nursing curricula. The best and current EBP is to deliver the required and expected expert care to patient populations. Health care delivery is also for those within the community as it relates to population health . It is felt that more research into QSEN should occur to determine the effects on organizational culture, nurse performance in practice, and patient outcomes. QSEN competency research could address the impact of QSEN competency education and specific teaching strategies on components of organizational culture, such as the nurse work environment, interprofessional teamwork, and patient safety culture (Olds & Dolansky, 2017).

The QSEN project is to help prepare future nurses with the KSAs necessary to improve the quality of health care provided. Future nurses need to improve the health care systems that are struggling in the current health care environment. QSEN works with nurse educators and provides information regarding the quality competencies necessary for future nurses in prelicensure programs. QSEN also provides the competencies for baccalaureate-prepared nurses as well as advanced practice nurses (QSEN Institute, n.d.). In 2017, QSEN was working to unite “academia and practice to ‘Move the Mission’ of delivering high quality, safe nursing care. The QSEN Institute provides resources to support a lifelong learning commitment to ensure that nurses work to improve care” (Olds & Dolansky, 2017, p. 126).

Research was conducted surrounding the QSEN competencies to evaluate instruments that have undergone psychometric testing. Such instruments include the QSEN Student Evaluation Survey, the QSEN-based Clinical Evaluation Instrument, Healthcare Professionals Patient Safety Assessment Curriculum Survey, and the Quality Improvement Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes Instrument (Olds & Dolansky, 2017). The instruments are mainly being used in prelicensure programs to evaluate registered nurse graduates.

Quality and safety competencies are vital to nursing and are constantly evolving; nursing must evolve as well. Nurses can bring the evidence generated by research to educate patients in the hospital. Nurses can also bring evidence from research into the community and educate patients about wellness and prevention of illness and disease. Part of educating new generations of nurses is to keep prelicensure nurses knowledgeable about health care delivery.

Ways in Which Research Can Benefit Communities

Figure of words having to do with health disparities and research.

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Population health is defined as the health outcomes of groups of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group (Kindig, n.d.). Groups can be categorized by geographic locations, ethnicity, disabled populations, and people with common illnesses or diseases. The continued health of such groups is important to narrow the divide between social and physical disparities of populations. The RWJF sponsors an organization called Population Health. The RWJF believes that organizations such as Population Health could produce enough change to make a difference as well as improve health outcomes and quality of life (Kindig, n.d.). Research is currently being performed to find ways to provide safe and quality health care to all.

Outreach to Families and Communities

Quality of life and care provided to populations should be equitable and quality health care should be available to all populations. Healthy People 2020 is currently conducting research looking at health determinants and their connection to disparities (see Figure 1.8). The National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) is part of the HHS. In 2017, the NIMHD hosted a Health Disparities Research Institute (HDRI) to “support the research career development of promising minority health/health disparities research scientists early in their careers to stimulate research in the disciplines supported by health disparities science” (National Institutes of Health, n.d., para. 1). During the conference, there were seminars and lectures regarding research designs and community-based participatory research.

Figure 1.8

Determinants of Health

Figure demonstrating the relationships between disparities and health care and how these factors impact quality of life.

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Disparities such as socioeconomic status and where one lives can have an impact on quality of life. The Health Disparities Research Institute’s (HDRI) goal is to conduct research to find evidence that will allow people with disparities to receive safe, quality health care. The HDRI addresses issues surrounding health disparities to find solutions. “It is not enough to simply identify that health disparities exist, but that all of our research should have the ultimate goal of making changes influencing and improving those health disparities” (National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, 2017, para. 12).

Nursing Research: Levels of Education

Depending on who and what is being studied, nursing research can be performed in the hospital or in the community. Nurses can create, design, write, perform, analyze, and publish research studies. The most import thing is that the nurse has an idea, which can come from personal experience or just intuition. The nurse may have many years of experience or none at all; the nurse just need the idea—the belief that something could work, make things better, or improve patient care.

Usually to obtain a nurse research position, one must have a BSN degree. If conducting research studies is a nurse’s passion, then obtaining an advanced nursing degree would be best, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a PhD in nursing. The education required to be a nurse investigator ranges from a BSN to a PhD. A PhD “student may gain paid experience and earn additional educational experience while completing the degree to have additional knowledge of conducting research studies” (Nurse Journal, n.d., para. 6).

There are many research databases from which nurses can find information on the latest research being performed and the results that someday may be adopted into practice. There are articles about nearly everything nursing and medicine. Many of these articles contribute to new knowledge of current nursing practices. Some of these research databases include:

· CINAHL Plus with Full Text

· Cochrane Library

· Dissertations & Theses

· EMBASE: Excerpta Medica Database

· ERIC on EBSCOhost

· Google Scholar

· HAPI: Health & Psychosocial Instruments

· Health Source/Academic Edition

· MEDLINE through Ovid (1947 to Present)

· MEDLINE via PubMed@UIC

· Nursing Reference Center

· Popline

· PsycINFO

· SAGE research Methods

· Scopus

· Sociological Abstracts

· Virginia Henderson International Nursing Library

· Web of Science (University of Illinois at Chicago University Library, n.d.)

Reflective Summary

Becoming a nurse investigator can be very exciting. Imagine thinking of a way to bring an end to high nurse to patient ratios, a better or different way to staff a unit, or a new way of scheduling nurses’ shifts so they no longer suffer from fatigue. Imagine creating a new protocol that makes patients safer, prevents falls, or prevents pressure ulcers. No one knows from where or from whom the next great idea will come. Nurses have the ability to change practice and improve working conditions.

Nursing research is a very rewarding career. While the sometimes gruesome history of research and experimentation is in the past, the past should never be forgotten to ensure that these unethical and inhumane practices are not repeated. As nurses, protection of the patient is a huge responsibility. Nurses ensure consent is obtained and education of patients occurs. Patients are taught about how to stay well and how to prevent illness. Nurse investigators strive to find new and innovative ways to care for the patient and to improve nursing practice.

Nursing research can be performed using quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods for the problem or population being studied. It is the idea that starts the process and the knowledge about nursing research to make it happen. Upon graduation from nursing school, all nurses take a pledge named after the first nurse investigator—Florence Nightingale. Nightingale knew that it is nurses who ultimately make a difference in the lives of patients.

Key Terms

Autonomy: Free will to make own decisions about self and physical body.

Belmont Report: Report that identified three fundamental ethical principles applicable to research with humans—respect for persons, beneficence, and justice—which translated respectively into provisions for informed consent, assessment of risk and potential benefits, and selection of participants.

Beneficence: Actively helping, doing kindness, performing quality conduct, and sharing goodness for the benefit of others.

Blinding: Not making the status of the treatment/intervention being tested known to the research subject or researcher; in double-blind studies, neither the researcher or research subject know the status of the treatment/intervention being tested.

Case Study Research Design: A method of qualitative research in which one focus is studied.

Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs): Tools to support informed clinical decisions for clinicians, organizations, and patients.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs): Rules that are published within the Federal Register, which contains rules governing research practices.

Common Rule: Defines research as a systematic investigation, including research development, testing, and evaluation, that is designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.

Construct: An idea, person, event, object, or anything that the investigator is interested in.

Control Group: The group of subjects not receiving the treatment; the sample not receiving the intervention being studied; also known as comparison group.

Correlational Research Design: A type of quantitative research that is not controlled and aims to understand relationships between variables.

Critical Appraisal: Review of nursing research study to appraise results, validity, and applicability to practice.

Declaration of Helsinki: A statement of ethical principles that provides guidance to physicians and other participants in medical research involving human subjects.

Deductive Reasoning: Deductive reasoning or a deductive approach is concerned with developing a hypothesis based on an existing theory and then designing a research strategy to test the hypothesis.

Dependent Variables: The outcome variable. It takes on different values in response to the independent variable.

Descriptive Research Design: The systematic collection of data to describe the variable, such as the characteristics of a population or current phenomena, being identified.

Double-Blind Study: Experiments in which neither the participants nor the investigators know which participant will receive the experimental drug, treatment, or procedure.

Empirical Evidence: Information found by research performed through experimental methods or data collected via observation; also referred to as empirical knowledge.

Ethnography Research Design: A method of qualitative research design focused on understanding people and cultures; often studied through observation.

Evidence-Based Practice (EBP): The integration of clinical expertise, the most up-to-date research, and patient’s preferences to formulate and implement best practices for patient care.

Experimental Group: The group that receives the experimental drug, treatment, or procedure of the research study.

Experimental Research Design: A type of quantitative research design that is highly controlled to study cause and effect with independent and dependent variables.

Exploratory-Descriptive Research Design: Research method used to describe and document various aspects of an event.

Extraneous Variables: A variable that can influence the relationship between the independent and dependent variables; can be controlled either through research design or statistical procedures; were not foreseen or known at the beginning of the study.

Gold Standard: Best and most reliable.

Grounded Theory Research Design: The collection and analysis of data from interviews and/or observation.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA): Signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton granting workers the ability to continue receiving health insurance coverage when changing or losing employment and yielding security and privacy standards for handling of patient health care information, including electronic transmissions.

Historical Research Design: Examining past events to make a prediction about future events.

Hypothesis: A testable statement of a relationship; an epidemiologic hypothesis is the relationship is between the exposure (person, time, and/or place) and the occurrence of a disease or condition.

Independent Variables: The experimental or predictor variable. It is manipulated in the research to observe the effect on the dependent variable.

Inductive Reasoning: Process uses open-ended or exploratory questions and observations to identify patterns or commonalities.

Informed Consent: Consent provided by research subject after receiving full information about the study, risks/benefits, and right to withdraw.

Insight: To gain an understanding of a person, place, or thing.

Intuition: Experience-based and gradual process from a feeling

Justice: Fairness; impartiality; treating others the same.

Levels of Evidence: Hierarchy of research methods based on quality of results.

Literature Review: Evaluative report of scholarly articles that support the primary subject of the work being written.

Mixed Methods Research Design: A type of research design that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative design methods.

Nuremberg Code: First international document that supported informed consent and voluntary participation for medical research; has remained an important document on medical and research ethics.

Participant: Research study subject who voluntarily signed informed consent.

Phenomenology Research Design: Qualitative research method used to study people through their lived experiences.

PICOT Statement: A system for formulating a clear research question; P is for problem or population, I is for intervention, C is for comparison, O is for outcome of interest, and T is for time of study.

Population Health: Defined as the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.

Privacy Rule: Provides people with rights over their health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at or use this information.

Qualitative Research: Research design using nonnumeric variables.

Quantitative Research: Research performed by evaluating numbers and numeric variables that result in measurable data.

Quasi-Experimental Research Design: A type of quantitative research design that is partially controlled that studies cause and effect of variables.

Randomized Control Trials (RCTs): Research studies in which patients are chosen at random to receive the treatment/intervention being tested; considered the gold standard of research design.

Rigor: The accuracy and consistency in data collection.

Sampling: The process of selecting the study population or study sample.

Scientific Method: Systematic observation, measurement, experiment, and the formulation of questions or hypotheses.

Systematic Review: Literature review that summarizes evidence by identifying, selecting, assessing, and synthesizing the findings of similar but separate studies.

Variables: A data item such as characteristics, numbers, properties, or quantities that can be measured or counted. The value of the data item can vary or be manipulated from one entity to another. There are three different types of variables—dependent, independent, and extraneous.

Vulnerable Populations: People who require special attention related to well-being and safety, including persons who cannot advocate for their own needs, such as children, prisoners, and cognitively impaired.


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