Research Nurse

When we think about nursing, often times we think only of the clinical aspect of the profession.   When it comes down to it, the nursing education allows for a person to immerse themselves in many different aspects of care.

Take for example Jessica Saucier, who took her career to a whole new level by delving into nursing research.    Jessica has been able to make some amazing changes in the medical community by doing research and integrating her findings into the patient care model.   Which is quite frankly… pretty exciting. If research nursing is something you have considered, then take a moment and find out what it is Jessica does, how she does it, and get an idea of where you can go with your own education.

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Can you describe your first job as a nurse?

I began my nursing career on the Liver, Kidney, Pancreas and Islet Cell Transplant Unit at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth. I loved this experience because I encountered critical care, medical/surgical, and specialty nursing all in one. I cared for patients who had undergone transplantation, as well as those who were suffering from the end stages of their disease and were on the transplant waiting list. Additionally, anytime a transplanted patient was admitted to the hospital for any reason, they came to the transplant unit because the complexity of their immunosuppressant medications made it necessary for them to be cared for by the transplant team. It was easy to become very close to patients because you were a significant part of their lives.

What are some of the different departments you were able to work in?  Did you have a favorite?

From the first time I witnessed a transplanted kidney being re-perfused with the recipient’s blood supply, I have been dedicated to the transplant specialty. Briefly, though, I worked PRN in a post-anesthesia care unit and appreciated the experience because I learned more about sedation medication and the operating room.

How did you start transitioning toward research in your career?

On the transplant unit, I quickly transitioned from novice nurse to charge nurse. As I became more comfortable in my role, I began to seek new learning experiences and opportunities for growth. I wanted to further educate myself in the specialty and solve problems that I found on the unit and in the hospital. I became involved in several committees, including the unit-based partnership council, unit-based education committee and hospital-wide nursing research and evidence-based council. The Achieving Synergy in Practice through Impact, Relationships, and Evidence (ASPIRE) program offered me the opportunity to identify a topic about which I was passionate and research ways to promote change. I began to see that, although research was a topic with which I was neither familiar nor comfortable, it was a subject that fascinated me. When a clinical transplant research nurse position opened, I decided that it was my opportunity to learn more about clinical research so I could further my nursing research career.

What kind of education is needed to move into the field of nursing research?

This depends heavily on the type of research in which you are interested. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but it must be noted that there is a distinct difference between nursing research and clinical research.

Any nurse with a curious mind, a definitive project idea and basic statistical concepts can perform a qualitative, unit-based research project that yields important, usable data. This is the basis for nursing research. For more complex, quantitative nursing projects and theories that require a broader comprehension of statistical analyses, a minimum of a BSN would be required due to the fact that many of these core courses are necessary to understand nursing research and theories – which is a very specific discipline. An MSN offers a vast amount of more information in nursing and research and would be the optimal track for nurses serious about a career in nursing research.

Clinical research is a much broader realm and includes pharmaceuticals, devices, etc. To work on these trials at the site level, one must be a Clinical Research Coordinator. Not all CRCs are nurses, but those who are bring a specialty to trial. In my situation, with only amateur, unit-based research experience, I was desirable in this position because of my transplant experience. As a Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse (CCTN), I brought a significant amount of transplant care knowledge to the position that would be difficult to find otherwise. It was beneficial for management to train me in the clinical research aspect as it is next to impossible to find a research nurse with transplant experience.

What has been the most interesting research you have worked on thus far?

My nursing specialty is transplant, and I am fortunate to work as a Clinical Transplant Research Nurse with biopharmaceutical companies that are researching and improving immunosuppressants, virologics, etc. There are many interesting projects on which I have worked, from new combination therapies for the Hepatitis C Virus to new medications for delayed graft function in kidneys. But, as my passion is nursing research, the most interesting project on which I am currently working is one that was born from my original, unit-based nursing research project on low-health literacy education for the cirrhosis population. From this, I have developed a protocol for a quantitative study that will use the intervention of an Inpatient Education and Discharge Nurse Navigator to reduce 30-day readmissions.

Could you share with us a moment of personal triumph involving your career that has made it exceptionally rewarding?

After completing my initial unit-based research, I developed and submitted an abstract discussing low-health literacy in the cirrhotic population that was accepted by the International Transplant Nurse Society for its 2011 Symposium in Goteburg, Sweden. I presented my abstract orally and made many valuable contacts that have proven helpful to me in my path toward readmission reduction.

What are some of the pros and cons of the research nursing career? Things that an aspiring researcher has to look forward to and should also be aware of when making the choice to venture down this career path?

Pro – having the skill set to affect change in nursing. Con – for some, nursing is fulfilling because of patient interaction. Research is much more academic in nature, and there is certainly less patient interaction than can be found in unit-based nursing.

Where do you see your career evolving from here?

There are so many options for research nurses! A research nurse can choose the academic route and teach at the university level. The larger health care systems have nursing research and evidence-based practice departments that assist nurses with identifying and researching issues. In the clinical research realm, pharmaceutical and device companies value nursing degrees and employee nurses as auditors, project managers, marketing representatives and content experts. I enjoy mentoring fellow nurses and assisting them in their research needs, so I see myself employed either at the university or hospital system level teaching other nurses how to answer their burning questions!