Research – to some, an overwhelming word. I think it’s because we conjure up images in our mind about white coats and laboratories, or elite scholars with high-ranking degrees. But, at the risk of oversimplifying, research is really just investigating causes, effects, and the relationships between variables. The purpose of research is to contribute new knowledge to the literature and expand on what is already known. Research can be quantitative, dealing with numerical data, or it can be qualitative, utilizing interviews to describe concepts and experiences of people. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s consider quantitative research in healthcare. There are two main types of quantitative research: experimental and non-experimental.
- Experimental research is when an intervention is tested in a group of people and compared to another similar group of people that did not receive that intervention (the control group). This type of research is known as ‘randomized-controlled trials’ (RCTs). RCTs are the gold standard of research, because through statistical methods, researchers can conclude that the intervention did or did not have an effect that wasn’t due to chance. There are many things to consider when designing an RCT, like the population of people in the study (sample population), how many people participate in the study (sample size), how to get people to participate in the study (recruitment), how people will be placed in the intervention group or the control group (randomization), and how to reduce factors that may impact the validity of the results (bias). RCTs can take a lot of time and money to carry out. Additionally, research involving human subjects is highly monitored and governed in order to protect the human participants in the study.
- Non-experimental research is the category that most other research falls into. These studies are mostly known as observational studies and include monitoring the relationships between variables. Think about smoking and lung cancer – It would not be ethical or feasible to design an experimental research study to determine the effects of smoking on lung cancer. However, in cohort and case-control studies, researchers can examine the effects of smoking on lung cancer. Cohort studies look at a group of people who have been exposed to a factor (smoking) and the incidence of the outcome (lung cancer). Case-control studies look at a group of people with an outcome (lung cancer) and investigate their contact with an exposure (smoking). The result from an observational study is not considered as strong as the evidence produced from an RCT. However, well-designed observational studies yield very strong evidence that relationships between exposures and outcomes exist.
With education and training, nurses can design and carry out both experimental and non-experimental research studies. Research studies begin with a research question. A good research question is clear and focused and should be testable. Examples of nursing research questions include:
- For post-surgical patients, does aromatherapy reduce nausea and vomiting?
- For newborns with hypoglycemia, does 20% dextrose gel promote euglycemia?
- What factors are associated with teen pregnancy?
- Does using a food journal lead to greater and more sustained weight loss?
- Is use of pitocin associated with post-partum hemorrhage?
Nursing is in a unique position to observe the things that impact our patients and their outcomes. Clinical research builds on the foundational knowledge needed to provide high-quality care to our patients and adds to the body of literature. Participation in nursing research also expands your professional development. New Knowledge and Innovation is a core tenet of Nursing Excellence, by conscientiously integrating evidence-based practice and nursing research into clinical care.
If you have research question that you need help developing into a research study, please email the CenterforNursingExcellence@uams.edu so you can get the tools you need to be successful!