How To Become a Research Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide

Research nurses play a pivotal role in developing new and potentially life-saving medical treatments. Typically, clinical research nurses have advanced degrees, assist in the development of studies regarding medications, vaccines, and medical procedures, and also the care of research participants.

Nurses that know they want to be a clinical research nurse will often work as a research assistant, a clinical data collector, and/or clinical research monitor. It is essential to gain some bedside experience, but not as important as other nursing specialties.

Clinical research nurses have advanced degrees such as an MSN or Ph.D. This is vital to those that want to conduct independent research. For that reason, most clinical research nurses do not work in this field until they are in their 40s-50s.

Clinical research nurses perform a variety of tasks, all centered around research. These specific job responsibilities include: states an annual average salary of $99,372 for Research Nurses andPayscale reports that Clinical Research Nurses earn an average annual salary of $72,848 or $35.14/hr.

According to the BLS, from 2020 to 2030 there is an expected growth of 9% for registered nurses. With the aging population and nursing shortage, this number is expected to be even higher.

The BLS does identify medical scientists, which includes clinical research nurses, as having a growth potential of 17% between 2020-2030.

Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Furthermore, some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management.

How to Become a Research Nurse
  1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  3. Obtain a Registered Nurse License.
  4. Gain at Least One Year of Experience in a Clinical Research Setting.
  5. Earn a Master of Science in Nursing or Ph.

How to become a clinical research assistant, associate, coordinator, research nurse

What does a research nurse do?

A research nurse works as a part of a research team to evaluate healthcare products and technology. They can work in hospitals, research labs, universities or healthcare organizations. Their daily duties can vary depending on their work environment and area of focus. Some nurses may work to develop vaccines, while others specialize in medical procedures. Their daily responsibilities can include:

What is a research nurse?

A research nurse is a healthcare professional who specializes in clinical studies. Research nurses design and implement trials to test new vaccinations, medications and medical procedures. They work with a scientific or medical team to create safe and effective healthcare inventions.

How to become a research nurse

To become a research nurse, consider following these steps:

1. Earn a bachelors degree in nursing

The first step to becoming a research nurse is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This program typically takes three to four years to complete. Some professionals earn their associate degree in nursing (ADN) first and then enroll in an RN-BSN program. This path will also take about three years to complete.

During these programs, nursing students can gain career skills, industry knowledge and professional experience. Most BSN programs combine education classes with training courses where students can work with patients and gain clinical skills and experience.

2. Obtain a nursing license

Next, research nurses need to earn their nursing licenses by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). They take this test through their states nursing board. The requirements can vary in each state, but typically nurses need their BSN and some professional experience. This may include volunteer work and clinical experience from college.

3. Choose an area of focus

Research nurses can choose to focus on certain research areas. For example, they could study new diseases or a certain type of medical procedure. There are many areas of specialty, including:

Some specialties require additional licensing or schooling, so its helpful to determine an area of focus.

4. Earn an advanced degree

Most research nursing positions require an advanced degree. Some professionals earn their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which takes two years to complete. This is the most common degree for research nurses, but some go on to earn their doctorate in nursing. During their studies, nurses can take courses in their specialty as well as research courses where they learn to analyze and record data for a clinical career.

When choosing a nursing program, there are many factors to consider. Some programs allow nurses to work while earning their advanced degrees. Others combine a BSN and MSN program to accelerate the process. Consider exploring your options to determine which path is right for you.

5. Gain clinical research experience

Before earning a research nursing certificate, professionals must gain at least two years of clinical experience as an RN. They may gain experience in any of the following locations:

6. Complete certification

After gaining two years of clinical experience, nursing professionals can apply for their research certification. There are a few pathways and certifications available, including:

These certifications all have different requirements, but they each include a certain amount of research hours and an RN license.

7. Apply for jobs

After obtaining the correct licenses, degrees and certifications, you can begin applying for research nursing positions. Consider creating a resume and cover letter that shows your hard and soft skills as well as your clinical experience.

7. Maintain licensing and certification

Research nurses must keep their certifications and licenses up to date. The CCRP requires recertification every three years, which can also include updated training or education. You may also need to recertify your RN license according to your state guidelines.

Important skills for research nurses

Here are some important skills for research nurses to develop:

Active listening

Active listening is the ability to listen attentively and fully comprehend what someone is saying. Clinical research nurses need active listening skills to understand their patients and clinical research participants. During clinical studies, nurses may ask patients questions to gather data. Listening closely can help them gather accurate information.

Analytical thinking

Research nurses analyze data to observe trends, make predictions and reach scientific conclusions. Strong analysis skills can help them determine whether a certain medical product or procedure is effective and safe.


During clinical trials, research nurses work as a part of a team with other nurses, scientists and doctors. Strong collaboration and teamwork skills can help nurses perform their daily responsibilities.


Research nurses communicate regularly with patients and research team members. They need to verbally explain the steps of a study and the research results. They may also present their findings to clients or other medical professionals during conferences or funding events.


Clinical research nurses often lead a research team to complete a trial. This can include training new team members, explaining the study and supervising tasks. They need strong leadership skills to oversee studies and team members.


During research trials, nurses need to observe and record all data. They need careful attention to detail to notice any changes and observe patterns.


Research nurses may schedule and plan research trials. They may also write articles and present at conferences. Strong organization skills can help them keep their data and deadlines in order.

Writing skills

After completing a clinical study, research nurses often write reports documenting the findings. Some may also write articles for medical journals and write grant applications. Strong writing skills could help research nurses secure funds for new trials and share findings with others.


How do I get into research as a nurse?

Nurse Researcher Schooling & Certification
  1. Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. …
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam. …
  3. Earn a master’s or doctoral degree. …
  4. Gain experience working in clinical research. …
  5. Pass the Nurse Researcher Certification exam.

Is nursing research a good career?

By designing and implementing scientific studies, they look for ways to improve health, health care services and health care outcomes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19% growth rate for nurse researchers between the year 2012 and 2022, a faster than average rate compared many other careers.

What do you do as a research nurse?

They collect blood samples, administer vaccines, check lab work, and use critical thinking to assess a patient’s health and review adverse events or treatment toxicities. Throughout, they ensure patients meet protocol goals. Another significant role of a research nurse is to collect data throughout the trial.

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