Nursing research is instrumental in producing scientific evidence associated with supportive care of the oncology patient. Nurse scientists have contributed to the evidence associated with managing hot flashes, constipation, end-of-life and palliation, and many other elements of caring for the patient with cancer.1-6 Scientists who make considerable contributions to the literature have often been awarded federally funded grants with which to conduct large-scale research projects. However, not all meaningful research studies are large scale, grant funded, multisite projects that require a great amount of academic resources.

In this time of limited federal funding, continuing nursing research is critical to patient care. Limited-scope or small research projects requiring little resources can generate new knowledge, and are critical to advancing nursing science and building clinical evidence. Unfortunately, many small nursing research projects are often not completed because of a lack of mentorship, time, or general resources.7 Nursing research must persevere in producing the necessary scientific evidence vital to care of the oncology patient despite the many obstacles that may arise. This article discusses how changes in undergraduate nursing research curriculum better prepare nurses for research projects, and offers tips on how to develop productive small research projects.

NURSING EDUCATION

Newer nurse graduates are benefiting from enhanced research-related curriculum, and many have accepted research as essential to patient care.8,9 In general, more nurses who have practiced fewer years tend to participate in research activities compared with those who have been in nursing longer.10 Today’s bachelor-degree students are very bright, and usually have a grade point average of 3.5 to 4.0 on acceptance into nursing school. New graduates are also more likely to pursue higher nursing education such as graduate and PhD programs.11 Approximately half of all nurses have earned a baccalaureate degree compared with 36% who have earned an associate degree, which exposes more students to research-related curriculum.12

Research-related curriculum content is enhanced to include appraisal of data, methods, and hypothesis testing.13 Advocacy for the human condition, integration of clinical evidence into practice, and evaluation of outcomes are also significant components of undergraduate nursing curricula. The notion of research can be imposing, and students who feel unsuccessful, unable, or uninterested in undergraduate or graduate level research-related curricula may hesitate to engage themselves further in research or research activities. Consequently, nursing educators must cultivate perceptions of empowerment and confidence that pave the way for a career of nursing inquiry.

Experienced nurses who have been out of school a considerable while can build confidence in research participation by searching for and accepting a small role on a project. Working in productive research groups can provide support with tasks such as literature review, or developing goals and methods. The best way to build confidence in conducting research is to engage in a project. 

THE SMALL RESEARCH PROJECT: HOW IT WORKS

A vital element of a successful project is a mentor. A good mentor not only guides the research process but can help with support, identifying priorities, and clarifying roles of the research team.14 Choose a mentor who has the time, expertise, and commitment to help device and conduct the research, and will be dedicated to completing the research project.15 Mentors should be able to allocate time to assist with

  • The research proposal,
  • Statistical support,
  • Institutional Review Board (IRB) compliance, and
  • A manuscript or other means of disseminating the data.

In addition to a mentor, develop a research team that includes nurses and other professionals, such as physicians, social workers, and therapists, who can bring a diverse range of expertise and skills to create a depth and generalizability to the research. The team can also work together to delegate tasks such as accrual screening, data collection, data entry, and many other necessary elements. Working as a team can motivate the researchers, collectively provide support, and potentially enhance the probability of completing the study.10 The mentor is also vital to organizing the team and guiding the entire research project.