Advanced Practice Nurses Help Meet Nursing Research Needs

Getting staff nurses involved in nursing research is not easy. Along with the additional time and work required to complete a project, it's difficult to find mentors who have the extra hours to guide nurses through the process.

"After achieving [ANCC Magnet Recognition Program® (MRP)] designation, to move forward and maintain [status], we knew we needed to involve staff nurses in research, quality improvement, and patient safety projects," says Maureen Cavanagh, RN, C-EFM, MS, MAHCM, an advanced practice nurse (APN) at St. Peter's Health Care Services—a 2005 MRP recipient—in Albany, NY. "And the people who had the skills to really lead and mentor nurses for those projects were the APNs."

Cavanagh and colleague Patricia Newell-Helfant, RNC, MS, CPNP, also an APN, are helping St. Peter's meet the nursing research participation expectation under Component IV: New knowledge, innovations, and improvements by pairing APNs with staff nurses. In the past two years, the new relationships have resulted in six national research presentations by staff nurses—six more than the facility had seen in the previous 25 years.

Get APNs on board
Although St. Peter's, a 442-bed facility, has an APN for every clinical area, they weren't all on board to be research mentors. But with the help of organizational support, many APNs were able to take on the new time commitment.

"The role of the APN had been focused heavily on education and orientation, and we needed it to move toward research and quality improvement," Cavanagh says. "So with organizational support, [administration] discovered other ways to accomplish education and orientation activities to allow APNs, who had skills in research and quality improvement, more time to mentor nurses."

But APNs were not the only ones who felt that lack of time was an issue with research—staff nurses felt the same way. That's where the nurse manager came in.

"The nurse managers have really been the unsung heroes," says Cavanagh. "They have been excellent with trying to help staff nurses carve out time to conduct research projects."

Be a mentor
Cavanagh first used her leadership skills to help shape the hospital's research council. She achieved this by sharing each step of her research project on moral distress with the council, which consists of staff nurses and APNs. Throughout her project, Cavanagh shared how to:

  • Develop a timeline
  • Develop a demographic tool
  • Look at data
  • Analyze data
  • Display results

"Every time I got to a new phase of the project, I went back to the research council and basically did a show-and-tell of what was taking place," says Cavanagh. "This was to help people on the council who had a research idea use my template to begin their project."

Just as Cavanagh displayed during her research project, APNs are happy to help nurses at a moment's notice. "There are a few appointments, but most of the time it's 'Do you have a minute?' and you don't say no," says Newell-Helfant. "It's about being available to them all the time."

APNs still focus on education and orientation, but there is a greater concentration on being a research mentor with the expectations of:

  • Leading nurses in research projects
  • Mentoring nurses in the research process and use of evidence-based practice (EBP)
  • Collaborating with other disciplines to implement EBP
  • Helping nurses submit abstracts for poster or podium presentations at national conferences
  • Helping and encouraging nurses to publish research outcomes

Showcase research
In addition to mentoring staff nurses throughout their research projects, APNs focus on helping them create posters, write abstracts, and showcase their research outcomes.

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