Mark Dornan, Adult Nursing Student, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen’s University Belfast
There is no doubt that the phrase “evidence based nursing” often conjures a fear and dread among many nursing and midwifery students. As part of the curriculum, undergraduate nursing students spend a significant portion of their time learning about evidence based practice. Often this is weighted equally with time dedicated to anatomy, pathophysiology, nursing care and procedures. Each of these have their importance in nurse education, however, students may have less appreciation of the need for research skills when it comes to prioritising learning. Students may struggle to identify how learning about research methodology and analysing journal articles will add to their nursing practice.
Having entered my undergraduate nursing programme after completing a postgraduate degree, which included an original research project, the evidence based modules have been enjoyable. I do, however, observe and empathise with the obstacles my fellow students have when it comes to this component of their education. It can be very difficult to learn research concepts in isolation and to read and appreciate a final published paper. The gap emerges if students critique papers but lack a good understanding of the methodology used by the researcher. There is often a lack of understanding about how the lengthy research process has led to the generation of a published journal article. I believe students would be better able to understand how the process works if they were able to experience it for themselves.
We need to ensure that nursing research is not something that is feared or neglected in the undergraduate curriculum. We want students to graduate and qualify with the intention of continuing to read journals and research and not view these activates as academic exercises to pass exams or assignments. Students who are stimulated by nursing research can be empowered to shape their own practice and deliver evidenced based care to patients with the possibility of providing improved care in hospitals and communities. Ensuring that nursing students have a positive experience of nursing research at the early stages of their education will benefit the profession in the long term and will encourage nurses to develop their own research projects, perhaps in the areas they practice or by returning to university to consider postgraduate research. In 2017 the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) reported that 98% of nurses believe that nurse-led research is important to furthering best practice. This is very heartening. We need to ensure that students who are interested in research as a potential career are gaining opportunities and insights whilst still in pre-registration education.
How do we help and encourage nursing students to see research as a vital part of the nurse’s role? At my University for example, undergraduate nursing students are encouraged to take part in a Research Internship Scheme which offers a short placement with a researcher to gain an understanding of the research role and explore ideas for future collaborations. Nurses spend 50% of their time in clinical practice, attaining skills and exploring interests. Offering enthusiastic students the opportunity to spend time with research nurses or in a research facility would enable students to gain a better understanding of research and how it is best managed. This might help to bridge the gap between research and practice. Research takes place in hospital trusts, in many different environments, and creative avenues to allow access for nursing students should be encouraged.
Additionally, having students undertake research, not just as participants but as researchers may be beneficial. If there is an opportunity for students to conduct research with experienced researchers this might encourage students to produce their own research in the future. Nurse-led nursing research should be highlighted as a potential career for graduates and vital to attain more nurse academics for the future.
My experience of research in nursing as an undergraduate has been extremely positive due to the additional opportunities that lecturers have offered me. It is my hope that other students will be provided with similar opportunities to enjoy the benefits of nursing research.