1. Worcester, Amanda K.
  2. Webb, Jennifer M.
  3. Proctor, Courtney E.
  4. Barton-Burke, Margaret PhD, RN


Resources, relationships, and rewards.


Article Content

Despite the busy schedules, long hours, and overwhelming workloads, studying nursing provides students opportunities, through a university or nursing school, to participate in research. In our second year of nursing school, none of us suspected that we would soon publish in a peer-reviewed nursing journal. Getting involved with research and building relationships with faculty members helped us to enhance our educational experience.



Professors, nursing programs, professional organizations, and extracurricular opportunities can all be valuable resources to a student nurse.


Faculty may be the most important resource. Our honors colloquium professor, Margaret Barton-Burke, PhD, RN, was the first to invite us to participate in nursing research. A prominent researcher who works with black women who are breast cancer survivors, Dr. Barton-Burke asked a group of seven of her students to contribute to an article she was preparing to submit to the Journal of Multicultural Nursing and Health. The article, "Black Women and Breast Cancer: A Review of the Literature," was published in the Summer 2006 issue.1


As lead author, Dr. Barton-Burke designed the research and assigned each of the seven student coauthors the responsibility of reviewing a different area of the literature on the topic, giving us a chance not only to contribute to the scientific literature but also to gain our first experience in writing for publication.


Also, as honors nursing students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, we have to complete senior research projects. Our work with Dr. Barton-Burke helped us develop our individual "capstone" projects.


Extracurricular opportunities. During our junior year, we presented at the 13th Annual Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Conference, where we discussed a demographic survey tool we helped to develop as part of our semester-long collaboration with Dr. Barton-Burke. Oral presentations given at conferences provide valuable public-speaking practice that helps to prepare student nurses to become nurse leaders.


Later that same semester, our honors advisor invited us to attend the Eastern Nursing Research Society Annual Scientific Sessions. University resources available to honors students covered the conference costs. Conferences of professional organizations are a great way to expand professional knowledge and contacts. We met well-known nurse theorists and other prominent professionals, including a deputy director at the National Institutes of Health. By networking and creating relationships at the conference, we are now able to reconnect with these nurse researchers, who can assist us as we further our education.


Several of these nurse researchers emphasized one important thing: if you plan to pursue a graduate degree in research, do so early. A student who completes a doctoral degree by the time she or he is 30 years old may have 35 or 40 years to conduct research or to teach nursing students. By discovering our areas of interest early in our careers, our generation of nurses can make a significant impact on the health care system for years to come.



Although we are in nursing school today, our professors and advisors will one day soon be our colleagues. Whether a relationship with a professor begins in the classroom or in the clinical setting, it can develop into an important mentoring relationship. Our program has relatively small classes, which makes it easier to form relationships, and we are often able to meet with professors and advisors outside of class. But even in a large program, students can make connections with potential mentors.


Take the time to inquire about faculty members' research and say you want to get involved. Chances are that faculty members will be happy to have your help. As the relationship develops, your mentor will be more likely to make time to meet with you whenever you need advice.


For example, after working on the research project described above, we worked as research assistants with the same professor in subsequent semesters. We coordinated focus groups with research participants, transcribed recorded interviews, planned meetings and events, and developed a demographic survey tool. We learned valuable lessons in networking, organizing, writing, and coordinating research-and developed relationships that are likely to be important to us for years to come.


Working with one professor can also help the student nurse establish a network of relationships with other nursing faculty. For example, one of us was interested in gaining further experience in pediatrics, and her advisor was able to set up a meeting for her with our university's leading pediatrics nurse researcher. Another of the present coauthors worked with faculty members on interdisciplinary work involving nursing, engineering, and mental health. The third coauthor worked on a project that evaluated the effectiveness of weekly multidisciplinary rounds on a respiratory unit at a local Magnet hospital.


Remember: don't hesitate to contact a professor or instructor for references for jobs, scholarships, or other support. In our experience as senior nursing students looking for jobs and applying to graduate schools, our mentors have been very helpful with letters of recommendation and other resources.



Perhaps the most valuable reward we've obtained for our research work is the confidence and pride we now have in our abilities as student nurses and fledgling researchers. Nursing is always evolving and research is imperative to ensure effective and safe practice within the field. By becoming involved with nursing research, you too can begin to contribute to evidence-based practices that will help to ensure the safety and well-being of patients.


Each step of the research process was invaluable to us when we were developing our senior honors projects. Our research experience helped us with topic identification, methodology, and planning. This is a prime example of how undergraduate experience in nursing research can be applied to other course work.


Undergraduate research experience also makes you a more attractive applicant, should you decide to pursue an advanced nursing degree. Experiences such as writing for publication, reviewing research literature, creating pilot survey tools, and presenting one's work at research conferences are good preparation for the challenges of graduate school.


Research experience can also be valuable in helping new nurses get a better sense of their own areas of interest within the profession. Many new nurses enter specialty areas after graduation and are sometimes surprised to find that the specialty doesn't meet their expectations.


Because of our research experience and the connections and relationships that we have made, we now realize that getting a graduate degree in nursing is a major advantage.


Undergraduate student nurse researchers gain another set of skills in addition to those learned in the clinical setting; yet those skills necessary for nursing research can be applied to everyday clinical situations. For example, consider the current emphasis on evidence-based practice. Gaining a familiarity with accessing and analyzing research literature can only help us in our clinical practice, applying the most up-to-date findings to patient care. Whether a nurse is creating the research or translating the new knowledge into practice, bringing evidence-based research into the clinical setting is essential. It is important for the nurses of the future to be both the developers and the consumers of research to promote evidence-based practice.


We encourage all of our fellow student nurses to take advantage of the opportunities available during their education. Relationships formed as a student nurse can have profound effects on future practice.




1. Barton-Burke M, et al. Black women and breast cancer: A review of the literature. The journal of multicultural nursing and health: official journal of the Center for the Study of Multiculturalism and Health Care, Inc. 2006;12(2):11-20. [Context Link]