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RN Research Career Path?


I'm currently an RN ADN with almost 5 years experience, about 3 of those years as manager of a post-acute rehab unit before I moved on to acute care. I hope to complete my BSN within the next six months.

I'm looking at masters degrees. I'd like to be involved in research more than anything else. I'm well aware of the MSN/NP and DNP options out there. But I'm not sure I want to go into primary care for a living. I recently spoke with Benedictine University about the MPH degree, and that sounds very interesting; but I also don't know that I want to be a PHN, and I'm wondering if that's all that degree is likely to be available for an RN/MPH.

So how about it? What advanced degree is most valuable for a nurse who wants to do research? NP? DNP? NPH?

HouTx, BSN, MSN, EdD

Specializes in Critical Care, Education. Has 35 years experience.

Like other professions, our nurse researchers are prepared at the Doctoral level. So, if your goal is to become a Primary Investigator (rather than a supportive, assistive role) you'll need to go for a PhD or DNSc. Although DNPs are certainly involved in research, their educational preparation is focused on patient care rather than on the "knowledge development" end of the spectrum.

Keep in mind that "Researcher" is not a secure employment position because these activities are funded by project-specific grants. There are, however, many jobs in the Grants & Research area that do offer full time employment. These are the people who manage & administer the infrastructure of the research process. They chair the IRB committees, making sure that all the rules are in place, educate would-be researchers about the process, administer the funds, generate the multitude of reports and documentation, etc., etc...

My organization has a very active Grants & Research department which is let by a physician who also has a PhD in Public health. Their are several functional managers (with Masters & PhDs) - but none have any clinical backgrounds. IMHO, the best nursing career path for research is to secure a faculty position with a well-established university-based nursing program. Most universities are very supportive of research. In fact, research activity is usually one of the criteria for obtaining tenure. As a faculty member, you would have the opportunity to conduct research and the security of a consistent income.

Best wishes on attaining your goals. I hope we'll be reading about your work in the future!


Has 25 years experience.

I once worked in a very large outpatient practice that had a GIANT research division and most of those nurses had only BSNs. They ran anywhere from 15-20 research studies each year and that place buzzed like a giant hive! They essentially approached each patient, did multiple visits with them, consented them, and then did every single research visit to the practice. They gathered all of the required data and documentation specific to each protocol and were responsible for submitting it to the sponsoring company. They also had audits every month or so from one of the companies who came to inspect their data and make sure it was on track. There were studies for various drugs that required gathering clinical data, blood work, x-rays, etc. THere were also research protocol for various diagnoses that they carried out with representatives from various companies. They were awarded MANY awards and commendations for their clean, ethical work. they were all incredibly thorough and very busy.

i know they all had a research certification, and a couple of them were working on degrees specifically in research (from John Hopkins maybe?) the Director of the research division only had a BSN also. I know that she had worked in no less than 5 major research divisions in our state and was the director of three of them.

However, each geographical area is different and each research division is different. I think it would be in your best interest to contact the research department at the hospitals near you and talk with the research nurses there and get their input. THey could very well be similar to the research departments around me, or they could require much more advanced degrees. good luck!