Nurses do research too, and here’s why it matters

The concept may surprise some, although the work they do is vital to patients

Think “scientific research” and one may imagine doctors, Ph.D.s or technicians toiling away in the lab. But many people don’t realize that nurses do research too.

Laura Perry, communications director for the UCLA School of Nursing, and Amy Albin, senior media representative for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, spoke with Karen Grimley, chief nursing executive at UCLA Health and assistant dean in the nursing school, about why the concept of nurses as researchers may be surprising to some, although the work they do is vital to improving the health and well-being of patients.


The discussion coincided with the 15th annual Research and Evidence-based Practice Conference being hosted today and Wednesday on campus by the UCLA Health Nursing Practice Research Council and the UCLA School of Nursing. Geared toward clinicians, researchers and educators, the popular conference is designed to showcase ways to improve patient outcomes through science-based best practices and to provide opportunities for professional networking and education.

What is the history of nurses as researchers?

It started with the mother of nursing — Florence Nightingale. She was a renaissance woman as it related to health care in the 1850s. Her work was all-encompassing and based in research. She measured illness and infection rates among wounded soldiers in the Crimean War and used those results to petition the British government to improve conditions, first, for the soldiers and then for public health in all of England. Her book, “Notes on Nursing,” tells where and how the research was birthed.  

What gets you excited about nursing research?

The excitement and passion for me is when someone has that “aha” moment. Maybe they don’t think it’s one at first, but when you discuss the idea, it grows into a thesis statement, and then it’s a question they want to solve. Research creates a very synergistic, dynamic environment where you are forever promoting care, health and wellness. 

What barriers or obstacles still face nurse researchers?

It's us. Nurses have great ideas and see things at the bedside that need research. But most of the time we don’t perceive ourselves as scientists and that we have the ability to bring their ideas to our internal groups — like the Nursing Research Practice Council or someone at the School of Nursing.

Nursing leadership needs to be cultivating that understanding with the nurse at the bedside or in the clinic and help those nurses take an idea and grow it into a research project. We need to mentor and coach those nurses, and that is a big priority for me in the upcoming year.

Evidence-based nursing research is a rapidly growing field. Why now?

Evidence-based nursing research has taken off over the past few years because there is a groundswell of interest by communities and the government as it relates to care of patient populations. That’s where nursing spends its time. Nursing is focused on caring for people. And with the Affordable Care Act, we are now very focused on prevention. That’s nursing’s wheelhouse.


What topics are nurses researching?

The way nurses are involved in research is two-fold. Pure nursing research looks at practice and ways to improve nursing activities, interventions or approaches to education that enhance professional practice. Examples of this could be looking at hospital-acquired infections, central line infections or pressure ulcers that patients get when lying down for long periods of time. 

The other type of research is using their expertise as a nurse and participating with an intra-professional group of people around a patient population, an illness or an injury. An example of this is studying the way that a team works together to resuscitate a patient during a code blue [emergency].

How does nursing research benefit patients and the health care field?

Research can help reduce the length of stay in hospitals and costs as well as improve patient outcomes. It also helps maintain normalcy for the patient. For example, for patients experiencing delirium, nursing research led to a survey tool to assess patients and inform our practice.  Another study looked at ways we can help improve sleep in the hospital because sleep is restorative.


The UCLA School of Nursing has a strong research foundation. How you are collaborating with UCLA Health?

We want to bring the strengths of both the School of Nursing and UCLA Health together and promote nursing. We want to bring ideas from the medical center and work with the academic side to help us design research projects that will ultimately promote better care. We also want to get nurse-practitioner students into clinics across UCLA Health. We have over 160 clinics that could really benefit from understanding the role that NPs play in their practice.

What is the future of nursing research?

There are hip, trendy things going on across health care, and we should be leading that. We need to find ways to partner with the people we care for and the people who care with us, whether it be at the bedside, in the clinic or in the community. If we stay true to our roots, nursing’s role is to advocate for our patients, especially vulnerable populations and people who cannot speak for themselves. It centers on ensuring that care is coordinated. We should be using the knowledge of our environment and the people we serve for our research ideas.

Related Content


Media Contact

Amy Albin
[email protected]