PhD nurses and research methods

Nurses who study for a PhD in nursing have enhanced career opportunities and the chance to contribute to forming healthcare practice. This degree prepares students at the highest level of nursing science to research and advance nursing delivery. These nurses are highly skilled at finding and interpreting scientific evidence related to nursing and healthcare. They are respected as healthcare professionals who can make an essential contribution and influence the future of healthcare. The PhD in nursing teaches students how to conduct research, use effective methods, and improve patient care.

This is important because good research evidence is continually needed to support and progress today’s nursing practice. Many nurses who obtain a PhD have initiated innovative therapies through research in various ways. They typically study issues related to health and healthcare and do this from a nursing perspective. PhD nurses work in multiple settings, such as research facilities, hospitals, universities, or nursing schools. They also have the research skills to design a research project, select appropriate research methods, organize statistical analysis, and uphold ethical practices.

This article explores how a nurse can obtain a PhD and the core components of research they should understand for success in the field.

PhD in nursing

A PhD degree prepares nurses to conduct research that advances the science of nursing and patient care. The program can include coursework on data analysis, research methodologies, healthcare leadership, and policy, and students are required to complete original research and a dissertation.

A PhD in nursing is a terminal degree that provides many leadership and specialist career opportunities. Nurses looking into the benefits of completing a PhD in nursing might wonder, “what can you do with a PhD in nursing?” A PhD in nursing is a valuable degree that equips nurses with the proper credentials to further their careers and positively impact patient care via research. A PhD is available to nurses with a master’s degree and can be completed online at reputable institutions such as Wilkes University. This online PhD is designed to be taken part-time and intended for students who need flexibility in their professional careers and personal lives. Nurses who complete this degree will be prepared for a job in scientific inquiry focused on nursing science. The three-year program also prepares students to be leaders with expertise in their chosen research field. It is tailored so that students can work while they study.

There is a high demand for PhD-qualified individuals and an increasing need for nurse scientists, faculty, and leaders. Demand is exceptionally high in areas with insufficient nurses, and these nursing shortages will likely become more prevalent over the next decade.

The research method of a PhD nurse

With a PhD qualification, nurses will delve into research. This requires thorough knowledge of research design, literature review, research protocol, research methods, and statistical analytics. In addition, nurses will rely on their understanding of medical ethics and desire to maintain continuous education for effective research.

Research design

The research design identifies the research problem and explains its selection. It includes a review of published literature that relates to the recognized problem. It has a clear hypothesis (research questions) associated with the problem selected. A description of the data needed to test the theories and how that data will be obtained is provided. The method of analysis is described, and the study design plan is outlined. The research design refers to the strategy chosen to logically combine the different parts of the study to ensure the research problem is addressed. It is the outline of data collection, measurement, and analysis.

Literature review

A researchable question can be related to a problem that can be examined, challenged, and analyzed to discover new information. The success of a research project depends on formulating a research question based on problems encountered in daily research activities and clinical practice. The aim is to decide on a significant and relevant question. A well-formulated research question is specific.

The Population, Intervention, Control, Outcomes (PICO) format is a strategy for framing a research question. The four components assist in identifying relevant information. The initial focus should be on population and intervention, with comparison and outcome considered next.

PICO is a helpful format for clinical research questions but is unsuitable for some reviews. Another method is Population, Exposure, Outcome (PEO), which helps find the relationship between specific exposures/risk factors and outcomes. There is also Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, and Research type (SPIDER), which is effective for experience or perspective questions that can be explored by mixed methods or qualitative research.

Researching the literature can help determine the breadth or depth of the proposed question or may identify a need for more information on that subject. Literature can be found in background sources, article databases, trial registries, cited references, or lists. A PRISMA flow diagram can depict the number of records identified and whether they are included or excluded. There are numerous ways to report the results in systematic literature reviews. Organizing findings in a matrix, also known as a Table of Evidence, is common.

Research protocol

The research protocol is a detailed study plan and an essential research component. It includes information on how the study should be conducted and sets standards for study conduct so researchers can combine data from multiple sites to reach valid conclusions. A review assesses the protocol to ensure the study can be completed with the available resources and capabilities.

The background, objectives, and study design are reviewed to get a general idea of the study and the potential participants. This information explains why the study is being conducted. The inclusion and exclusion criteria can determine who qualifies for the study and who does not. Information about the tests and procedures to be performed and how the information will be gathered is included in the protocol.

The first step in writing a protocol is deciding the research topic. Knowledge gaps can be identified with a literature review. A PubMed search can show if this topic has been researched before. The next step involves considering the study’s who, what, where, when, why, and how. This involves deciding the population to research and which staff are on the research team. The background and significance of the research are described, as well as when and where the study will take place. Patient identification, recruitment, consent, and safety are addressed, and the institution’s approval is obtained. There is also a description of how the data will be analyzed.

It can be beneficial to have a mentor who is interested in the research project. Funding may be available internally or through a more significant grant source. The importance of the topic chosen will be written about with a description of what has happened to resolve or exacerbate the problem previously. The solution to the problem will be proposed, and the questions to be answered will be determined. For this purpose, it is helpful to have a statistician on the team, as well as nurses, research assistants, and data managers.

Research methods

Research methodology is the procedures used to identify, process, and analyze information about a particular subject. In a research paper, the methodology section outlines the method for collecting and analyzing data. Methodology should be selected before any research occurs, which is essential to the research project’s success. The methodology chosen determines what kind of data is collected, how it is collected, and how it is analyzed. The type of research methodology selected depends on the study’s nature and includes qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research.

Qualitative research focuses on how individuals or groups perceive and experience a social problem. The process entails collecting and analyzing non-numerical data, bringing meaning to the interpretation. Quantitative research involves collecting and analyzing numerical data and generalizing it across groups of people or explaining a particular phenomenon. Mixed methods research collects and analyzes using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The researcher can use the strengths of each approach and explore different aspects to understand the research subject comprehensively.

Statistical analysis

Research studies should be based on questions or hypotheses. Statistical methods used for a study should relate to the hypotheses, with consideration for variables and the design of the study. The statistical method is chosen after the hypotheses are decided and is a tool for evaluating the hypotheses. The data analysis plan is created during the development of the research study, providing a detailed description of the statistical methods used for the study. Converting data into a helpful form requires advanced analytics techniques. Data analytics uses various methods to analyze data in its many structured and unstructured forms. The aim is to discover insights and trends that were not otherwise apparent.

One of the tools used in analytics is software that obtains data from sources such as case files, patient surveys, and networked devices. Another tool is a program that authenticates and analyzes data about a research question. There is also software that uses analytical results to recommend actions to meet healthcare goals.

Using data analytics in medical research can help healthcare organizations improve disease prevention, predict disease outbreaks, improve quality of life, and increase life expectancy. Data analytics improve healthcare research by gathering data from numerous sources. Examples of sources of clinical information include personal health records, electronic medical records, and public health records. Data analytics helps researchers identify ways to improve clinical processes and other healthcare operations.


Understanding ethical best practices and guidelines is essential for researchers. Ethical principles include autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, data security, and consent process. Federal regulations state that a qualified institutional review board must approve all research proposals to ensure participants are protected and the research has ethical integrity. The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements outlines that individuals have the right to choose whether to participate in research. Research participants must receive sufficient information to make informed decisions and understand that they can decline to participate or withdraw at any time.

Confidentiality and anonymity of research participants means that the identity of research participants should not be disclosed in research reports. Additionally, researchers must adhere to the Data Protection Act regarding data storage and managing access to data. Researchers must have enhanced awareness of ethical considerations when research participants are vulnerable adults, children, or marginalized populations. With vulnerable adults, researchers may ask next of kin for consent. Research involving children should seek the child’s and the parent’s consent. When approaching marginalized groups, connecting with trusted local outreach services can be beneficial.

Continuous learning

A professional development and continuous learning culture allows PhD nurses to advance nursing care, stay updated with advancements, and develop leadership skills. Nurses can optimize their performance with ongoing learning and contribute to their healthcare team and organization. Healthcare is continually advancing and a commitment to education helps nurses keep up to date with developments relating to medications, techniques, procedures, and technology. It keeps their skills and knowledge updated and ensures they know contemporary evidence-based best practices.

PhD-prepared nurses contribute to the nursing profession by translating research into clinical practice and education, developing theories, and generating knowledge and leadership. These highly skilled nurses develop professionally through continuous education, mentorship, and career planning. Healthcare is evolving, and adapting and learning to keep abreast of change is necessary. For example, technology in healthcare has brought innovations such as machine learning, virtual reality, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) that have greatly advanced research, healthcare, and health outcomes. New areas of knowledge, interventions, and methodologies are becoming available. The nurse scientist must make an ongoing commitment to following the literature, attending conferences, workshops, and courses to keep their knowledge up to date.

PhD nurses make valuable contributions


PhD nurses have obtained the highest-level qualification in nursing. They are in demand by employers who need their research, education, and leadership expertise. Nurses with a PhD have learned how to conduct research, use effective methodology, and adhere to ethical guidelines. They can apply their strong research skills to improve nursing practice and patient care. Nurses understand the patient’s experience, which makes their research beneficial to patients. Ultimately, they can advance medical knowledge and improve processes, making a valuable contribution to healthcare and nursing.

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