Nursing Research: You Can Make a Difference

The NICHE 2012 Conference, held in New Orleans from March 7 to 9, was a wonderful opportunity for nurses to learn about research that is being done by their peers as they strive to improve health care delivery to their patients. (NICHE is an acronym for Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders.)

While NICHE’s mandate is to improve health care among the elderly, much of the research that was presented can easily be adapted across the health care milieu. The nurses discussed studies and projects, and made presentations on many topics, such as the need for proper feeding programs for patients who are unable to eat alone, fall reduction approaches, dealing with delirium in acute care, and even crisis management, with a presentation from nurses who worked through the disaster we’ve come to know as Hurricane Katrina.

The inspiring speakers spoke of work that has been done and needs to be done, and why we need more research in the nursing field.  This last topic was addressed in the keynote presentation given by Alice Bonner, Ph.D., RN, FAANP, Director, Division of Nursing Homes Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Dr. Bonner’s passion and enthusiasm about nursing research shone through as she described how nurses can and should get more involved in this aspect of health care. Research is what drives nursing care forward, providing our patients with the best we have to offer.

The main message of Dr. Bonner’s presentation was that changes in the health care system, in terms of quality care, reduced readmission rates, better home care, and better outcomes, rests – you guessed it – on the nurses, the front-line workers who spend the most time with the patients. But, many ask, how do we do this when it seems that no one hears nurses when they speak?

Here are some of Dr. Bonner’s tips:

  • Be visible. Nurses have to be “out there.” Nurses need to be visible on committees at the hospital level and the community level. Nurses need to be doing research, applying for grants, writing proposals, and following through. Nurses have to make sure that the policy makers know that nurses exist and that they have something to offer.
  • Tell your story. Nurses have to speak up. Sure, we talk amongst ourselves about what needs to be done, changed, or proposed, but we need to tell our stories to the people who can affect that change. Tell everyone from your peers to your supervisors, but also tell your community and political leaders. Don’t stop talking. But be sure you tell a story when you speak. Data, charts, numbers – these are all important information, but they’re not as compelling as the stories we can tell.

Obviously, with HIPAA, we cannot reveal confidential information, but we can let people know what is happening without divulging information we shouldn’t. Stories drive the point home. Stories remind the listener that he or she may know someone else who was (or is) in a similar situation.

  • Become a subject matter expert. If you want to facilitate change, then become an expert on what it is that needs to be changed. If you want to work on reducing the number of falls on your unit, find out as much as you can about the topic, from the general issue to the numbers and facts close to home, in your own hospital. Research, interview, ask questions, watch, and take note.

When you become a subject expert, you can offer your expertise to committees and groups. You can speak with authority when someone asks about the issue. You can become the go-to person.


For some reason, many nurses don’t see research as something they feel qualified for, but this isn’t so. Nurses see firsthand what patients need. This is what qualifies them to ask the questions that are the basis of research. Once the question has been formulated, the next step is to find if there is already an answer available. If there isn’t, then there is work to do. And if there is an answer, there may be a better one just waiting to be discovered.

To learn more about the ways nurses can use basic research skills to influence patient care:

Further education is another path to learn how to apply knowledge to your existing clinical skills – or even to prepare for a career in research. Develop your critical thinking ability and empower yourself with knowledge, through a RN to BSN or RN to MSN degree. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, and executive leadership.