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Research methodologies and evidence-based practice in nursing

Research and evidence-based practice are valuable tools for improving patient care and outcomes. In fact, it is not possible to advance the understanding and delivery of good-quality patient care without exploring new and better ways of providing it.

Nurses play a crucial role in the research and application of evidence-based practice. The nature of their role means they have daily contact with patients and can develop a deep understanding of their needs. This is true in all sectors of healthcare, from primary care to surgical and emergency care, along with psychiatric and mental healthcare.

Here is a look at the methodologies nurses use to conduct research and how this translates into evidence-based nursing. We’ll also explore how nurses can further their education so they can step into roles like that of nurse practitioner.

Senior nursing roles like these encompass numerous aspects of delivering patient care and include participation in research projects and the use of evidence-based practice as part of daily responsibilities.

If you’re practicing as a nurse, understanding the link between education, research and evidence-based practice will enable you to engage with your professional role at a deeper level and may inspire you to take on a course of further study.

What nurses need to know before starting a research study

Before choosing a methodology for their study, nurses will need to make a few decisions about how they will collect data for their research.

Quantitative or qualitative research?

The first thing to decide is whether the study will involve quantitative or qualitative research.

Qualitative research involves gathering non-numerical data to understand ideas, reactions or opinions. For example, a project could explore how useful mental health patients feel a new mindfulness program is to their overall wellbeing.

Quantitative research involves gathering and assessing numerical data. An example of a nurse-led quantitative research project could be one that explores the link between hospital-acquired infection in patients and the frequency that nurses wash their hands.

Primary or secondary?

Primary data is data that the nurse leading the project will collect themselves through observations and surveys. This approach is suitable when exploring a new question or idea.

Meanwhile, secondary data is data that has already been collected by a researcher in previous studies. Secondary data can be useful if a researcher is seeking to identify trends on a large scale.

Descriptive or experimental?

Descriptive research describes the attributes of the subject of the study. This means that the study leader does not intervene in any process. Experimental research, in contrast, intervenes in a given process and compares two sets of variables and possible outcomes as a result.

Types of research methodology

There are many types of research methodologies available to nurses. The right choice will depend on how well it serves their project’s aims and objectives.


Here, a nurse is exploring cause-and-effect or how one variable may affect another variable. Using this method, the nurse formulates a question, defines the variables and makes some predictions about how they might be related. For example, they may want to find out the effect of using cell phones near bedtime on the quality of sleep in patients with anxiety.

Their variables will include how many minutes the subjects use their phone before sleep and the hours of sleep they get in a night. They may predict that the longer a subject uses their cell phone before rest, the fewer hours of sleep they will experience.

Subjects will be assigned a group, each with differing levels of phone use. Once the data about the quantity of sleep is in, they can use it to draw conclusions about the question asked. This research method uses primary data and is quantitative in nature.


A survey is another method that collects primary data for quantitative research studies. Here, the aim is to understand the attributes of a community or population. The nurse leading the research project will need to define the group to be surveyed, decide how the survey will be carried out (such as in person, online or by mail) and design and communicate the survey. Once the responses have been collected, they will analyze and write up the results.

Interview and focus group

This methodology is good for qualitative research projects as it provides subjective and in-depth information about individual and group experiences.

For example, a nurse may wish to find out how patients respond to online health consultations. Do they find them more or less useful than in-person consultations? Do they value the time saved on traveling to clinics, or do they find it difficult to discuss their issues online?

This method collects primary data and can be good for evaluating a new service.


Observation allows a nurse researcher to understand how a phenomenon occurs in its natural setting and can be used for either quantitative or qualitative studies. They may observe an entire scenario or only part of the same scenario to collect the data they need.

This methodology works well in psychiatric and mental health settings. For example, a mental health nurse may wish to understand how a patient interacts with a particular type of talk therapy without seeking to compare it with another type of treatment.

Literature review

This methodology uses secondary data to draw a conclusion.

A study leader will analyze a number of previously published studies on a given topic to understand current knowledge, identify trends and determine where gaps in existing research may be.

This is a valuable tool in helping to define and inform subsequent research projects.

Case study

A case study is useful when nurses wish to glean a deep understanding of a situation or patient group in cases where a larger study is not viable. It can use primary or secondary data and either qualitative or quantitative data collection.

This methodology allows nurses to gain a better understanding of a specific subject area. The results may be written up in a narrative style to present their implications and demonstrate how they fit into current trends.

Evidence-based practice in nursing

Once research projects have been completed, their findings must be integrated into healthcare delivery and patient care so patient outcomes can be improved.

Nurses can do this by reading, understanding and assessing the latest research. This means they must set aside time to read relevant journals, network with other healthcare professionals, update their training and education, and attend professional events where the latest research will be discussed. They may also achieve these goals by taking part in or leading research projects themselves.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) recommends five essential steps for practicing evidence-based nursing. These are outlined below.

  1. The nurse should start by posing a question about their patient’s specific issue and define a goal. This might be refining a procedure so a patient spends less time in the hospital.
  2. Then they should search for relevant articles from reliable sources, such as medical journals.
  3. Next, assess the data collected in step 2 to decide whether it’s valid, of good quality and valuable to the patient.
  4. The next step is to apply the evidence to their clinical practice, according to what has been discovered in the data collection phase and the nurse’s existing knowledge and experience.
  5. Finally, the nurse will assess the outcomes following the application of evidence-based practice to find out whether the treatment or method was successful and whether it should be used for other patients.

Following this formula to implement evidence-based practice opens a wealth of benefits to both healthcare practitioners and patients.

These include:

  • Improved patient outcomes
  • Reduced healthcare costs as a result of more efficient care
  • Increased nurse autonomy and confidence
  • Pathways to incorporating new technologies in healthcare
  • Enhanced decision-making among professionals
  • The inclusion of patients in making decisions related to their care
  • Enhanced critical thinking
  • The encouragement of lifelong learning

Expand your skills and contribute to research

It is clear that applying evidence-based practice offers many benefits for everyone involved in healthcare. If you’re a nurse whose goal it is to provide the best patient care, you might consider studying to expand your skills and contribute to research.

Postgraduate study that leads to a role as a nurse practitioner is a great place to start. You will build on your existing knowledge and skills and prepare to take on a role that includes the best of evidence-based practice and research.

A nurse practitioner works with more autonomy than a regular nurse, assessing, diagnosing and treating patients. The role involves using the latest evidence-based practice and includes participation in or leading research studies.

It’s the ideal position for anyone who loves working directly with patients but is also motivated to discover and employ the most up-to-date practice. If you are working in the field of mental health, you can apply for a nursing practitioner qualification that specializes in this field.

If you are wondering how to achieve this goal in a reduced timeframe and at a pace that suits you, search for accelerated PMHNP programs online. You’ll find quality programs like the Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner course provided by Wilkes University. This can lead you to a rewarding career working with patients of all ages who have mental health needs. Applying your knowledge and expertise, you will be able to treat them using the latest techniques and treatments and see them flourish and grow.

The course is delivered online, which means you can fit studying in around your existing commitments. You will also be supported in taking part in clinical placements to gain experience working at a high level in this field. Once you’ve qualified, you will be free to search for nurse practitioner positions that reflect your desire to provide quality, evidence-based care to patients and take part in valuable research projects to enhance patient outcomes.

Taking research forward

Taking research forward is the key to providing better patient care. Nurses play a pivotal role in boosting outcomes through their everyday practice and by enhancing this practice through study and acquiring additional knowledge.

This can lead them to take on more senior roles, such as nurse practitioner, which has a wide remit including research and evidence-based practice.

If this pathway appeals to you, be sure to explore the possibility of quality online programs designed for nursing professionals who have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to enhance their patients’ experiences. By stepping into a nurse practitioner role, you can provide the very best in patient care and outcomes.

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