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While some nurses have an ardent passion to become researchers, Elizabeth Johnston Taylor, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nurse researcher at Loma Linda University Health in Southern California, admits that she kind of fell into it. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her job. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“I find great joy in doing research,” she says.
According to Taylor, nurse researchers will begin a research project by looking for an answer to a problem. For example, she says, “How can we improve the quality of life or decrease depression among people with disease X? or “How can the health care system better provide care for those with condition S?” S/he will identify something that needs further study. She says that once they decide what question needs to be answered, they design a study using scientific methods that will best answer it—whether they are quantitative or qualitative, use a small sample or big data, are biological in nature or psychological, etc.
“Each phenomenon you want to study obviously is going to require its own unique approach,” explains Taylor.
Oftentimes, nurse researchers will get others to help them with data collection, and then may work with a statistician or a team to analyze the data that is collected. Once they’ve found information that may or may not completely answer the question, it’s important to write about the results to disseminate the findings. “What good is it if you don’t share it with the world and allow the world to benefit from it?” she points out.
Taylor’s program of research—which is a researcher’s area of expertise or what s/he often studies—explores patients’ spiritual responses to illness and how nurses can support or nurture spiritual well-being. “From attending some conferences and just having conversations with chaplains, I got anecdotal evidence that some chaplains believe nurses are inappropriately providing spiritual care and/or doing things with patients that they think are within their purview, but a chaplain doesn’t think it is,” explains Taylor. “I’m doing an exploratory study where I’m asking chaplains to tell me more about these kinds of phenomena.”
For nurses thinking about getting into research, Taylor says that they need to realize that this isn’t a part-time job or something you take on with only minimal interest. They will need to earn a PhD and then obtain funding to pursue a program of research. “It really takes a lot of effort,” says Taylor. “Most academics who have a successful program of research probably work anywhere from 40 to 60 hours plus a week. So it really requires a great deal of commitment as well as a great deal of curiosity and passion.”