AACN News—August 1998—Research Can Be Part of What Every Clinician Does

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Vol. 15, No. 8, AUGUST 1998


Many of Suzanne Burns’ colleagues wanted to know how she motivated her staff of clinicians to become involved in clinical nursing research. Burns wanted to know, too, so she did research of her own. She presented her findings as the Distinguished Research Lecturer at the 1998 National Teaching Institute in Los Angeles. “Clinical Research: Part of What We Do” was the title of her lecture.

Burns, RN, MSN, CCRN, ACNP-CS, RRT, is a practitioner and associate professor of nursing at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, Charlottesville, Va. She interviewed clinicians whose experience ranged from 4 to 20 years and whose degrees ranged from associate of arts to master’s in nursing. Burns shared excerpts from the interviews she conducted with clinicians. She said she asked them the same questions she once asked herself about the significance of research.

“It became obvious to me, early on, that one of the most powerful tools for validating or changing practice, and for challenging practice changes that make little sense, is research,” she said. “I believe that clinicians who question practice routines are among the best clinicians.”

Burns said her goal became to convince others to share her viewpoint. Thus, she began this mission with clinicians at the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, Burns confessed, clinical research isn’t common in most practice arenas, and research isn’t routinely part of practice. In fact, even research application is not yet the norm. Strategies like demystifying science in the classroom and changing research technology to make research seem less rigid have met with varying success.

Burns said her medical ICU as well as the staff clinicians are much like other medical ICUs around the country. The 12-bed unit has a staggering 110% occupancy rate. Most of the clinicians never had a research class, but more than half were involved in clinical research projects, and half have published or presented their work.

Why have Burns and her staff done so well? Those she spoke with admitted they initially didn’t want to be involved with research, believing that doctors and others do clinical research, not bedside nurses like themselves.

Yet, after involving themselves with studies on tracheostomies, sleep patterns of critically ill patients, nasogastric tube taping methods, and intrahospital transport of critically ill patients, they quickly realized how their findings could help patients and influence practice.

Although the complexity and focus of the studies varied, the clinicians’ reaction to research now is almost uniform. Their responses changed from “impossible” and “intimidating” to “integral” and “necessary.”

Colleagues from other units are convinced Burns must has a magic elixir that motivates her staff; she’s often asked what her secret is. Does her department receive more money, have more supportive administrators, or have more with whom to work? Not at all, Burns insists. Instead, it’s the attitudes of the clinicians that make the difference.

“We don’t fail because we don’t just try—we do it.” Clinicians who do research are also rewarded by sharing their findings at annual conferences and publishing the results.

“Perhaps what we must do if we are to change clinicians’ perspectives to being part of what we do is to work on this from the grassroots up rather than the top down,” she said. “Our philosophy is that research is for everyone, and if the question is important, find the answer. I’m passionate about doing research because I believe data [are] powerful and I want to influence practice.”
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