How to Become a Nurse Researcher

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A nurse researcher works in a laboratory.

Nursing professionals interested in performing scientific research aimed at improving health care interventions and patient outcomes may find the nurse researcher role to be a good fit. This advanced, highly specialized position combines patient care, treatment, and research. Professionals in this field work in a variety of settings, including medical research centers, teaching hospitals, and government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Individuals exploring how to become a nurse researcher should know that to qualify for nurse researcher positions, they’ll need to earn an advanced degree in a related field, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). An MSN program can help aspiring nurse researchers gain the foundational knowledge and research skills needed to pursue this important health care role.

Nurse Researcher Job Description

Nurse researchers conduct research focused on improving patient outcomes, with their research findings used to help improve many facets of patient care, such as recovery after surgical procedures, prenatal care, and pain management protocols for patients with terminal illnesses. Additionally, some nurse researchers assist with pharmaceutical research on new and existing medications and treatments undergoing clinical trials.

Although the specific day-to-day duties of nurse researchers can vary widely depending on the institution they work for, their typical responsibilities usually include the following:

  • Conducting studies, such as laboratory studies and clinical trials
  • Ensuring compliance with study guidelines
  • Collecting, analyzing, and documenting study data
  • Recruiting patients for clinical trials
  • Maintaining study participants’ records
  • Writing reports to document research findings

Requirements to Become a Nurse Researcher

Most nurse researcher positions require applicants to hold at least a master’s degree in a related field, such as a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner, to be considered for employment.

The curriculum for Bradley University’s online MSN-FNP program includes the following coursework designed to prepare students for advanced practice and specialist roles.

  • Health Informatics: This course introduces students to concepts in health informatics, such as clinical information management systems, health care data, and personal productivity applications.
  • Research in Nursing: Students taking this course are taught about the various steps in the research process. As part of their studies, students evaluate published nursing research to understand the importance of research in nursing.
  • Statistical Procedures: The principles of and procedures for the statistical interpretation of data are a key part of research. In this course, students explore concepts such as control tendency, correlation, and variability.

These and other courses in the program can provide students with the advanced skills needed to conduct research in a number of settings, such as clinical trial centers, health care facilities, universities, and research laboratories.

Steps to Become a Nurse Researcher

To become a nurse researcher, students need to possess a broad, foundational knowledge of how to gather and interpret a wide variety of clinical trial and research data. Common steps on the path to becoming a nurse researcher include the following:

  • Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Aspiring nurses interested in pursuing research positions must start by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited college or university. Many full-time students find they can complete their BSN degree in approximately four years.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN. Upon earning a BSN, aspiring nurse researchers need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain their registered nurse (RN) license. This primarily multiple-choice exam is offered numerous times throughout the year at testing centers throughout the country.
  • Earn an Advanced Degree. Graduate programs, such as Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program, include classes designed to prepare students with the in-demand skills needed to pursue jobs in this field. Many full-time students find they can complete their MSN degree in approximately two years.
  • Gain Clinical Research Work Experience. Clinical research work experience can be gained through an internship and/or by pursuing an entry-level research position at a college, university, or clinical trial research center. After completing one to two years of on-the-job experience, professionals often find they’re eligible to pursue higher-level research positions.
  • Get Certified. Although certification isn’t required to work as a nurse researcher, professionals certified as a clinical research coordinator (CRC) may find they have improved job prospects. The CRC certification test is administered by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals. Individuals interested in registering for this exam must complete a minimum of 3,000 professional working hours performing tasks in various facets of clinical research, such as research design, ethics and participant safety, product regulation and development, clinical trial operations, and study site management.

Employment Outlook for Nurse Researchers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies professionals working in this field as medical scientists. Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow by 17% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS, which is much faster than the average projected growth for all occupations (8%). Approximately 12,600 openings are projected each year, on average, during that period.

Increased job opportunities for medical scientists will be partly driven by greater demand for health care services as the population continues to age. An aging population will contribute to increased rates of chronic disease, necessitating further research into treating these illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to greater demand for medical scientists.

Job openings are also expected to result from the need to replace workers who retire or exit the labor force for other reasons, as well as those who transfer into alternate professions.

Nurse Researcher Salary Range

The median salary for nurse researchers was approximately $81,500 as of May 2022, according to Payscale, with a salary range between $63,000 and $147,000.

Actual salaries can vary widely based on a variety of factors, such as an individual’s experience level, the organization they work for, and the region in which they work. For example, May 2021 data from the BLS notes that nurse researchers in California had an annual mean wage of $120,540, while nurse researchers in Texas earned $82,980.

Earn an Advanced Degree and Become a Nurse Researcher

Nurse researchers play a crucial role in improving health care processes, health care delivery methods, and medical interventions. Students interested in pursuing this career path need to begin by developing the necessary skills and expertise to gather and interpret research data.

The online Master of Science in Nursing program at Bradley University is designed to help nursing professionals develop the in-demand expertise needed to pursue employment in this field. Discover how Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program can help prepare you to pursue your dream of becoming a nurse researcher.


Recommended Readings

How Clinical Decision Support Systems Benefit Nurses

Nursing Theories: An Overview

Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Types of Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities



Association of Clinical Research Professionals, CRC Certification

Indeed, “How to Become a Research Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide”

National Institutes of Health, Nursing at the NIH Clinical Center

Payscale, Average Nurse Researcher Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Scientists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists