How to Become a Research Nurse

Updated on January 26, 2024

Nurses play a vital role in advancing medical research and improving patient care. For those interested in conducting clinical trials and translational research, becoming a research nurse is an exciting career path. Research nurses work closely with scientists and doctors to coordinate studies, collect data, monitor patient health and responses, and ensure research protocols are followed properly. Transitioning into this specialized field requires some additional education and certification beyond traditional nursing licensure. This guide will outline the step-by-step process for how to become a research nurse, key skills and qualifications research nurses need, salary and job outlook information, and top employers in this growing career niche. Whether you are currently a registered nurse looking to advance into research or a nursing student exploring specialization options, read on to learn if this intellectually-rewarding field is right for you.

Understanding Holistic Nursing

Holistic nursing focuses on caring for the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. As a research nurse interested in holistic care, it’s important to understand the principles behind this approach. Some key aspects of holistic nursing include:

Research on holistic interventions like meditation, relaxation techniques, therapeutic touch, and more can help provide evidence for integrating these approaches into mainstream healthcare.

Educational Requirements and Pathways

Holistic nursing focuses on caring for the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. As a research nurse interested in holistic care, it’s important to understand the principles behind this approach. Some key aspects of holistic nursing include:

Research on holistic interventions like meditation, relaxation techniques, therapeutic touch, and more can help provide evidence for integrating these approaches into mainstream healthcare.

Specialized Training and Certification requirements

To become a research nurse, you typically need to complete additional specialized training beyond your registered nurse (RN) license. Some common credentials and courses research nurses pursue include:

Research nurses need to understand clinical research methodology, ethics, and regulations in their specialty. Gaining additional training and certifications in these areas allows research nurses to advance their expertise.

Licensing and Certification

To work as a research nurse, you must hold a current registered nurse (RN) license. Each state has its own licensing requirements, but generally you must graduate from an accredited nursing program, pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam, and pay licensing fees. Check with your state’s board of nursing to understand the specific steps to earn licensure. For example, the California Board of Registered Nursing outlines the process for obtaining RN licensure in that state.

While certification is usually not required to work in research nursing, obtaining certification demonstrates your competency and expertise. Some of the certifications available include:

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Skills and Competencies

A research nurse needs a unique blend of clinical knowledge and research skills. Key competencies include:

With a mix of patient care expertise and research proficiency, research nurses contribute greatly to building health and medical knowledge through clinical trials.

Career Opportunities and Employment Settings

Research nurses have a wide variety of career opportunities across diverse employment settings. Many work in hospitals and medical centers, coordinating and overseeing clinical trials. As clinical research coordinators, they may work for pharmaceutical companies, academic research institutions, government agencies, or private research organizations. Some key career paths and employment settings for research nurses include:

With the growth of clinical research, demand for trained research nurses is projected to increase substantially in the coming years, creating ample employment opportunities in this rewarding specialty.

Salary Expectations

Research nursing salaries vary depending on your experience, education, certifications, and geographic location of the role. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for all registered nurses is $75,330. Research nurses tend to fall on the higher end of nursing pay scales.

For example, according to, the average annual research nurse salary is $87,566 in the United States. PayScale data shows that research nurses earn an average base salary of $74,906 per year, with a range of $59,142 – $103,957 depending on experience and location.

Experience LevelAverage Salary
Entry Level (0-2 years)$65,000
Mid-Level (3-9 years)$80,000
Experienced (10-20 years)$95,000

As you can see, those research nurses with more years of experience tend to command higher salaries. Additionally, certain employers and geographic regions pay higher wages. Conduct your own localized salary research when negotiating pay for a research nurse role.

Overall the career outlook for research nursing is strong, with an aging population and growth in clinical trials expected in the coming years. This rising demand makes it an ideal time to enter this rewarding nursing specialty.

Continued Professional Development

As a research nurse, it is important to continuously develop your professional skills and knowledge. Here are some tips for continued professional development:

Making time for continued learning and growth will help you thrive as a research nurse and advance your career over time.

Challenges and Rewards

Becoming a research nurse comes with unique challenges and satisfying rewards. Some key challenges research nurses face include:

However, the career also offers many valuable rewards such as:

With passion for science, attention to detail, and adaptability, research nurses can overcome obstacles and find the career very fulfilling.


Becoming a research nurse requires dedication, empathy, attention to detail, and a passion for improving patient care through studies. By obtaining the proper education and certification, developing key nursing skills, and seeking out research nurse roles, you can start a rewarding career that allows you to make a difference.

As you have seen, the path has many steps, but taking them one-by-one will lead you to your goal. From volunteering in studies during nursing school to earning your master’s degree and seeking specialized training, each achievement builds your knowledge. With some determination to learn on the job and collaborate with research teams, you will continue advancing as a research nurse.

If you feel drawn toward the vital work of studies and trials, do not hesitate to pursue this unique nursing role. We need more compassionate and capable nurses to propel research forward and bring treatments to patients faster. With an open mind and dedication to lifelong learning, you have what it takes to succeed as a research nurse.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a Research Nurse?

A research nurse is a registered nurse who conducts research, collaborates with research teams, and ensures ethics and safety in studies. They are key contributors to medical knowledge through clinical trials.

What are the Educational Requirements for Becoming a Research Nurse?

Typically, a research nurse needs a Master’s degree in nursing with a focus or courses in clinical research. However, they must first become a registered nurse (RN) by graduating from an accredited nursing program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam.

What is the Role of Certification in Research Nursing?

While not always required, obtaining certification like the Certified Clinical Research Nurse (CCRN) or Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) demonstrates competency and expertise in the field. It can strengthen a research nurse’s credentials.

What Skills are Needed for a Research Nurse?

Key skills for a research nurse include critical thinking, strong communication, assessment abilities, a strong understanding of ethics and safety, and exceptional organizational skills.

What are some Common Employment Settings for Research Nurses?

Research nurses often work in hospitals and medical centers, academic research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and Contract Research Organizations (CROs).

How much does a Research Nurse Earn?

Research nursing salaries vary, but according to, the average annual research nurse salary in the United States is $87,566. Those with more years of experience tend to earn higher salaries.

How can a Research Nurse Continue Professional Development?

Continued development can be achieved by attending relevant conferences and seminars, reading academic journals and publications, obtaining additional certifications, joining professional associations and mentoring junior research nurses or nursing students.

What are the Challenges and Rewards of Being a Research Nurse?

Challenges include managing complex clinical trial protocols, recruiting and retaining study participants, and coordinating care across multiple healthcare providers. Rewards include advancing medical knowledge, intellectual stimulation, varied responsibilities, and the potential for groundbreaking discoveries.

How Can I Learn More about Becoming a Research Nurse?

Resources such as the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS), and academic journals can provide valuable information. Many nursing schools also offer specialized programs for aspiring research nurses.

What is the Career Outlook for Research Nurses?

The career outlook for research nursing is strong, with the growth of clinical trials expected to create ample employment opportunities in this rewarding specialty.

Additional Resources

For those interested in learning more about becoming a research nurse, here are some additional helpful resources:

Research nursing is a growing field. These organizations and publications help provide education, career development, and community engagement opportunities. Consulting them can aid prospective research nurses in finding their path.