Apr 06, 2021
By Paola Carla Meyer

Research in nursing: a surprising student placement during the COVID-19 pandemic

istockphoto.com/psisaA role in nursing research can incorporate a registered practical nurse’s experiences, as well as experiences from previous clinical practices, into valuable research projects.

The spring term of 2020 began in an unconventional way, even for those nursing students who were already attuned to online learning. Preceptorship is often one of the last steps in an undergraduate nursing student’s journey to becoming a registered nurse (RN), and it is the most exciting, yet anxiety-inducing, term of the curriculum.

Courtesy of Paola Carla Meyer“The thought of completing my preceptorship away from the bedside raised the fear that I might not be able to prepare for nursing care as an RN,” Paola Carla Meyer says. “I thought that nursing research was the realm only of nursing scholars, or those who preferred to avoid hands-on nursing care.”

It is also a time for many students to contemplate their nursing career path. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected academics around the globe, and many students who were about to step into the final stages of their nursing program had to endure major changes in their learning plan.

In my case, neither I nor my professor had anticipated a preceptorship experience in an academic institution. As a student, I was originally scheduled for a preceptorship placement in a local hospital, and my professor had not anticipated a preceptorship student for the spring/summer term. However, when my hospital placement was cancelled owing to COVID-19, an alternative option was necessary.

Despite my initial disappointment, I was fortunate and excited to be given the opportunity to complete my preceptorship virtually as a nurse researcher. Although this was not the route I had planned to take, and not a career path that I had considered, I was eager to step into this new role, and curious as to how the experience would affect my nursing career goals.

Change in plan

Certainly, nursing students put great thought into the career path they will take once they have completed the BScN program. Many have probably envisioned themselves working in the hospital setting, and in my case, I was indeed eager to work in critical care.

The thought of completing my preceptorship away from the bedside raised the fear that I might not be able to prepare for nursing care as an RN. I thought that nursing research was the realm only of nursing scholars, or those who preferred to avoid hands-on nursing care. Looking back now, I realize how wrong I was.

Highlights and implementation

Research certainly plays a role in much that health professionals do in their practice, but its significance had not crossed my mind, especially as a career. Through my preceptorship, I came to realize that nurse researchers use their knowledge and hands-on experience to theorize, hypothesize, structure studies, and collect evidence, all of which leads to better care of patients.

Furthermore, nursing research results in evidence-based practice, leading the way to higher-quality health care and best patient outcomes, as well as shaping the ontology and epistemology of nursing.

My experience has shown me the importance of nursing research in health care, as my placement project focused on the impact that COVID-19 has had on nurses and nursing students. The result of this research will help in gaining a better understanding of how health care and academic institutions can prepare for, and adjust to, the current pandemic now affecting us globally, and other possible pandemics in the future.

A role in nursing research can incorporate a registered practical nurse’s experiences, as well as experiences from previous clinical practices, into valuable research projects.

Results

After the first several weeks in my nursing research placement, I came to realize that some research topics arise simply from asking good questions. As for the role that nurses play in nursing research projects, it is definitely a significant one. Nurses ask the relevant questions; they bring expertise and valuable information to their projects, and they can also take the lead as the principal investigator in research. Nurses also play an invaluable role in data collection and analysis and dissemination of important research findings. This paves the way to evidence-based nursing practice and leadership.

In my preceptorship, I gained knowledge in these areas and more.

I helped to structure qualitative and quantitative survey questions; I created a participant information and consent letter; I entered data into the university database for the research ethics board’s approval; and I used an online survey platform (Qualtrics) to collect findings from participants. Undoubtedly, I would not have obtained any of these skills without this preceptorship placement.

Lessons learned

Based on newly gained experience as a nurse researcher, I have learned that a career in nursing research is not only as important as bedside nursing, but is also as exciting and perhaps something to consider as a future career path.

A role in nursing research can incorporate a registered practical nurse’s experiences, as well as experiences from previous clinical practices, into valuable research projects. This role not only provides important information, but also guides nurses and other health-care professionals in ensuring that patients receive the best care possible by asking questions and taking the time to find the answers in meaningful ways. Research can also significantly affect how health care and nursing curriculum are delivered.

Next steps

Thinking “outside the box” in regard to preceptorship placements can help shape nurses’ minds for an ever-evolving health-care landscape. As we navigate an uncertain nursing climate and face events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing, as a profession, must be prepared and proactive in being able to adapt. Accepting a preceptorship placement in an academic institution as a nurse researcher is an example of how adaptability can benefit nurses, and nursing more generally.

Karey McCullough, RN, PhD, was a contributing author to this article.

Paola Carla Meyer, RPN, is a BScN undergraduate employed at Hampton Terrace Care Centre, Burlington, Ont.

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