Smiling nurse with a stethoscope and clipboard

How to Become a Research Nurse

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Smiling nurse with a stethoscope and clipboard

When most people think of nursing careers, they think of busy emergency rooms and bustling hospital hallways. And while that may be an accurate picture for many registered nurses, there are also opportunities for more studious types who would rather conduct research than work triage. If you love the idea of being a part of advancing medical knowledge and technology, a career as a research nurse could be the nursing specialty for you! Becoming a research nurse is an excellent fit for perpetually curious people who want to earn a great living, especially since it was recently featured on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a research nurse, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a research nurse is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying nursing jobs.

Research Nurse Definition

What is a Research Nurse?

Research nurses are licensed registered nurses who conduct scientific research focused on improving human health. They often design and conduct experiments that help improve our understanding of certain illnesses or to develop new technology, medical devices, or pharmaceuticals.

Research Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Research Nurse Do?

As their ultimate goal is to gather useful data and knowledge that can drive advancements in medical science, research nurses spend a lot of time designing and conducting experiments. That means they’ll determine the parameters and conditions of an experiment, as well as observing and attending to patients who participate in clinical trials. A big part of a research nurse’s job is also compiling their findings and presenting them to fellow scientists, and writing grants to secure funding for future research

Research Nurse Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of research nurses include:

  • Designing and conducting medical research studies
  • Observing patients during treatment or clinical trials
  • Reporting research findings at conferences or other speaking engagements
  • Writing grants to secure funding for future experiments
  • Creating articles or research reports for scientific publications

Research Nurse Skills

The best research nurses are observant and curious, with the critical-thinking and data-analysis skills to design experiments and interpret results. Good attention to detail is equally important, especially when designing experiments that will stand up to peer criticism. You’ll also need the communication skills to present information to fellow scientists and to write grant proposals to secure funding for future research.

Medical professional in a lab

Where Do Research Nurses Work?

You’ll find research nurses working anywhere medical advancements are being made! That means the majority of research nurse jobs are found within university hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical instrument companies, and medical research laboratories.

Research Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Research Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Research Nurse?

Becoming a research nurse takes time and dedication, but the chance to have a fulfilling and lucrative career means the rewards are certainly more than worth it. You’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that’s required spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months!

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a research nurse is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a research nurse:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your research nurse education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. A career in nursing is open to a wide range of people from all walks of life—if you got decent grades and can pass a background check, you can become a registered nurse! For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Your career as a research nurse starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications like any bachelor’s degree program. While they may not be directly related to nursing, all these courses will help you become a more well-rounded critical thinker and problem-solver, both essential skills during a career as a research nurse.

Of course, the bulk of your BSN program will involve learning all the different aspects of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess patients and best care for all different patient groups from pediatric to geriatric. Others will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the nursing field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes focused on building leadership skills and improving your evidence-based decision-making.

In tandem with your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. All these courses will better prepare you to assess and treat patients and recognize and solve problems under pressure while working as a registered nurse.

Finally, you’ll need to complete a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience in a real clinic or hospital. It’s the final step in applying all the knowledge you’ve gained throughout the course of your BSN program and putting it to practical use in a real-world environment.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools and one that commits to supporting students as they transition into the workforce. You may want to consider schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs, which can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even graduated!

Medical student in front of a blackboard

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

The final step for anyone before becoming a registered nurse (and eventually a nurse researcher) is passing the NCLEX-RN exam. It’s a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions. Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. It’s normal to be a little nervous, but the good news is you’ll be well-prepared for the test after earning your BSN degree!

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, so you should be able to take your nursing career wherever you choose. While any RN experience will be important to pursuing a future career as a research nurse, you may want to seek out employers involved in medical research—places like university hospitals, research labs, or medical device companies.

Specific licensing renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your nursing license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education, you should be eligible for renewal.

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Nearly all research nurses earn a postgraduate nursing degree, most frequently a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). There are various concentrations available among MSN programs, though one focused on medical research and writing will likely be an ideal match for aspiring research nurses. There are thousands of MSN programs available across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though some accelerated programs can be finished in around 18 months.

Research Nurse Salary

How Much Do Research Nurses Make?

According to Salary.com, research nurses from across the country earn an average salary of nearly $88,000 per year, or over $42 per hour. The highest-paid research nurses (those in the top 10% of all earners) can bring home more than $105,000 per year.

Research Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Research Nurses?

As medical knowledge continues to advance, there will be a stable need for research nurses to carry out the trials and experiments that help us better understand illnesses and ensure new treatments and technologies are safe. The BLS projects the overall employment of medical scientists (including research nurses) to increase a steady 6% by 2029. That’s 50% higher than the average 4% growth rate for all jobs across all industries.

Smiling healthcare team

Ready to Start Your Career as a Research Nurse?

If you’re the type with a relentless desire to uncover new knowledge, a career as a research nurse could be the nursing specialty you’ve been looking for! You’ll get to be a part of developing life-saving treatments and medical technology that significantly impact people’s quality of life. And you’ll get to do it while staying largely out of the hectic hospital environments that can make many nursing jobs so stressful at times.

Ready to start taking steps toward a rewarding career as a research nurse? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and get started on the road to your new career in nursing today!