What does it take to be a good research nurse?

Posted on by Kelly Gleason in Professional Development, Research

If you were asked to define the characteristics of a good research nurse, what would they be?

Words that immediately come to mind for me are takes initiative, eager to learn new things, organised, assertive, flexible, good communicator, self-assured, robust, leader, autonomous and creative thinker.

So often when I am interviewing or speaking with someone who is interested in getting into research, I get a feeling as to whether I think they have the right characteristics to actually enjoy research and really thrive in this field.  There is nothing scientific about my approach but simply some signs that make me think the person will like working in research. They include things like a nurse who has handled challenging clinical situations and has developed sound problem solving and decision making skills, a great communicator, someone who is resourceful and eager to find solutions to problems, someone who can get along with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations and someone who does not back down from a challenge or failure.  I think the person who enjoys research definitely has to like a challenge.

This reflection on what makes a good research nurse and my more intuitive and less logical approach led me to the literature for further ideas.  I found there is a great deal explaining the duties of a research nurse but very little describing the characteristics and/or skills of a good research nurse.  I did, however, find two great publications that described what characteristics made advanced practitioners more successful and happy in their roles. I did find many of the characteristics mentioned were also desirable characteristics of a good research nurse.

The first paper was a systematic review and meta-synthesis written by Myfanwy Lloyd Jones. She found there were core characteristics that facilitated effective working for advanced practitioners.

Here is her top twelve list:


Ability to accept responsibility

Ability to make decisions






Negotiating skills

Conflict resolution skills



In my every day work, I must say that I definitely see these characteristics in action. I also think we need to demonstrate these in appraisals and when developing job descriptions.

Another important aspect that Lloyd Jones lists is political astuteness.  Political awareness was again mentioned in the second paper by Chrissie Bousfield.  I think this is particularly important when looking at modelling the role and its destiny. Bousfield also defined other core characteristics of the advanced practice role.  She felt advanced practitioners were driven by leadership and shaping the future of their roles.  They were innovative and forward thinkers; they were passionate about quality patient care and had a very self-directed approach.

I believe these characteristics also fit very well with those of a good research nurse.  In Developing Yourself in Clinical Research I ask what people like most about research.  Innovation, improving outcomes and autonomy are always at the top. We like taking action and having the freedom to do so and we like that our actions contribute to improving patient care.

Not every research nurse will have all these characteristics, we are all constanly evolving and developing our skills.  Which characteristic would you desire more of and what would this year look like if you focused on developing that?

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