Clinical Research Roles: How to Become a Research Nurse

A research nurse is a healthcare professional who works in clinical research. While working as a research nurse has some similarities to the role of a clinical nurse, their primary focus is on ensuring that studies are conducted safely, ethically, and effectively. This article will discuss the specific role and responsibilities of a research nurse along with the qualifications and requirements needed to thrive in this field.

What is a research nurse?

A research nurse, also known as a clinical research nurse or clinical trial nurse, works in a clinical research environment alongside sponsors, site staff, investigators, and doctors. Research nurses are critical members of the clinical research team, working to ensure that studies are conducted in a safe, ethical, and effective manner, and ultimately helping to advance medical knowledge and improve patient care.

What are the main responsibilities of a research nurse?

A clinical research nurse plays an active role in clinical trial research as the liaison between the trial participants and key stakeholders such as sponsors and investigators.

While the roles of nurses in research largely depend on the parameters of the clinical trial and the operational protocol of the trial site, overarching responsibilities include:

Patient health and safety

  • Supervising clinical trial participants' health through regular tests and assessments
  • Administering drug dosages and other treatment interventions on site
  • Responding to emergencies and providing medical interventions as needed
  • Communicating with potential participants to address concerns
  • Managing medical supplies and maintaining medical equipment

Patient recruitment

  • Aiding in participant recruitment efforts
  • Gaining informed consent from participants throughout the study
  • Assisting in the screening process of potential participants

Data collection

  • Collecting data on study participants, including medical history, physical exam findings, laboratory results, and any other information relevant to the study
  • Ensuring that data is accurately recorded and stored
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Maintaining detailed study records according to FDA guidelines
  • Managing trial participants to ensure they are complying to study rules

What are the qualities of a good research nurse?

A good research nurse must have specialized knowledge and experience in healthcare research. The minimum educational requirement is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and passing the NCLEX-RN. [1]

Once applicants have passed the testing exams, it is necessary to register as a licensed nurse within the state of employment. Each state has a local regulatory board which often has additional requirements before registration. This can include drug tests and thorough background checks for criminal records or disciplinary actions.

Once registered, it is vital to have a minimum of a year’s experience working in a clinical trial setting to understand the clinical research setup, operations, and environment, which differs considerably from general healthcare.

Additional academic degrees are not required at the start of a clinical research nursing career but are recommended to excel as a research nurse. These include:

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Ph.D. in Nursing

Finally, clinical research nurses must also have strong communication and interpersonal skills to professionally interact while discussing sensitive matters with participants and across different levels within clinical trial research, from trial management to investigators. Other skills include:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Organization skills
  • Detail orientation
  • Solid clinical abilities
  • Research capabilities

Research nurse certification

A research nurse looking to advance forward can earn certifications with the following organizations:

  • Association for Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) [2]
  • Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) [3]

While the certifications are not specifically for research nursing, they are related to the clinical research discipline. Research nurses with these accreditations can open doors to other opportunities in clinical research.

Additionally, institutes such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) offer a residency program known as the CRNRP for newly licensed graduate nurses transitioning from nursing school to clinical research. [4].

Experienced nurses with an advanced degree in nursing who are looking to transition out of healthcare and into the research world can take the Practice Transition Accreditation Program (PTAP) offered by the American Nurses Accreditations Center. [5]

Where do research nurses work?

A clinical research nurse can be employed in a variety of healthcare agencies and organizations, as given in the list below:

  • Drug development organizations such as CROs and pharma and biotech companies
  • Trial sites such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices participating in clinical research
  • Private and public foundations
  • Academic research facilities
  • Government institutes and organizations
  • International and national review boards
  • International health agencies

Clinical research nurse jobs are regularly listed on employment boards, job directories, and agency websites.

Research nurse salary

The mean salary for a clinical research nurse in the US is approximately $73,525 per year. [6] However, a research nurse salary varies as it is influenced by several factors, including:

Years of experience: Research nurses with more time in acute care and clinical research can earn upwards of $100,000 annually. [7]

Education level: Research nurses with advanced certifications or degrees and fall in a higher salary range. Entry-level research nurse salary is $54,000 - $65,000 a year. [7]

Location of employment: Geographical areas with more clinical research offer higher salaries, upwards of an additional $20,000 - $30,000 per year. [7]

Research nurse jobs outlook

As drug development efforts continue to grow, so do the listings for clinical research nurse jobs. Additionally, with the steep rise in clinical research post-2020 pandemic, demand is continuing to increase, and so average research nurse salaries are expected to grow as well. [8]