February 6, 2023/Nursing/Research

Study Connects Hospital Support, Strong Mentorship With the Growth of Nurse-Driven Research

Findings reveal personal and professional factors that influence nurses’ interest in medical research


Nurses comprise the largest group of clinical providers in the world, yet a surprising few ever become involved in healthcare research focused on medical and nursing themes. A new study by Cleveland Clinic nurse researchers aims to identify some of the reasons for this shortfall and points to ways healthcare leaders and hospitals can encourage more nurse-driven investigations.


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In the study, ASSESS RN – Associations Between Nurses’ Characteristics and Engagement in Clinical Research, investigators found that those who displayed attributes that reflected ongoing professionalism and participated more actively in the field of nursing or their particular organization were more likely to engage in research activities. Other factors, including having a robust professional support system and adequate protected time, also encouraged the pursuit of research.

“It quickly became clear that nurses who worked in encouraging, collaborative settings were far more motivated to pursue research,” explains Jennifer Colwill, DNP, APRN-CNS, CCNS, PCCN, who led the study. “Previous research shows that work environment plays a role in nurses’ career satisfaction and wellbeing. In this study, it was exciting to find that there was a direct link between research activity and the level of professional support nurses received.”

Searching for answers

The study began with a review of existing literature, which revealed some facilitators and many obvious barriers to nursing research; however, it didn’t address the full array of factors, explains Colwill, a clinical nurse specialist at Hillcrest Hospital.

“Frankly, we were surprised by the number of opportunities that clinical nurses did not take advantage of, as there were many options available that would foster scientific inquiry,” she says. “The discovery immediately prompted the question: ‘What is keeping nurses from conducting research?’ It was evident that something was limiting them from actively pursuing opportunities that facilitated scientific study.”

The team began by surveying 310 nurses to gather demographic factors (age, sex, and years in the nursing profession). Researchers also evaluated participants’ professional experiences, including prior research engagement, professional certifications, and other forms of career development or advancement, and assessed whether participants received dedicated time or grant support for research projects (if they had previously participated in research). Finally, the questionnaire assessed a variety of individual psychosocial factors, including curiosity, locus of control, grit, social support and comfort in conducting research.


In analysis, study investigators grouped the self-assessed research activity of participants into four categories based on related themes. Nurses who were most active in their careers – as evidenced by more than one certification, participation in professional development activities or work groups, and organization-wide quality improvement initiatives – were more likely to be active.

“It’s apparent that participants who had support, especially from nurse scientist mentors, were more comfortable conducting research than nurses who did not have such interactions,” says Colwill. “Although the pursuit of research requires a certain level of personal ambition, there’s no question that healthcare leaders play a pivotal role in the availability of research resources, including mentors who encourage the development of nurse-led studies.”

Interestingly, nurses who reported a personal experience with the healthcare system – as either a patient or the family member of a patient – were also more likely to pursue research opportunities.

The big difference a little support can make

Although some findings were unsurprising, Colwill explains that new knowledge helps confirm and validate the findings of other nurse researchers who had similar conclusions. In addition, she says she hopes the findings will encourage hospital leaders to continue and even advance their structured support systems and processes for nurse researchers, including providing dedicated time to focus on individual projects.

“By carving out time so nurses can step away from clinical work to focus on conducting, disseminating and translating research, healthcare systems benefit,” she says. “Intellectual curiosity can be fostered in all nursing caregivers, and leaders can build upon their organization’s research capacity.”


Next, Colwill says her team will look for ways to translate their findings into enterprise-wide changes at Cleveland Clinic. She recommends that any nurse with an interest in research seek opportunities and support by finding a research mentor and becoming more involved in professional development programs.

“Nurses spend nearly every working moment observing, treating and talking with their patients, so they possess a deep, very personal understanding of clinical care,” she adds. “A nurse’s perspective can be quite different from that of other providers, whose interactions with patients are often limited. It’s imperative for research to reflect nurses’ unique voice.”

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