Nurse academics and scholars have an ethical responsibility to contribute to and advance the body of evidence for their practice as educators. The science of nursing education is at a point in its development where programs of research are needed to support teaching, student learning, and faculty development. For example, there exists a solid body of evidence in the area of simulation (Jeffries, 2023), from augmented virtual reality to measuring learning outcomes. However, most areas of teaching practice rely on limited evidence from single-study reports. To provide evidence to establish best practices in nursing education and have an impact on student outcomes and faculty development, it is important that researchers reframe how we conceptualize and conduct research. Single-site descriptive studies should only be the starting point.
As researchers in nursing education, we must consider our research from the lens of a program of research or research trajectory. Beck (2016) defined a program of research as “a sustained, systematically planned series of studies addressing a particular gap in the knowledge base of a discipline that is knowledge driven and not method limited” (p. 1). A research trajectory requires methodological rigor with demonstrated significance and actionable evidence that builds on previous research. However, as Gennaro (2022) articulately stated in a recent editorial, “Doing multiple studies using the same tools is not creating a course or a path” (p. 402). Researchers need to establish a relationship and path among studies. In other words, a program of research builds a knowledge base about a relevant phenomenon.
WHERE TO START AS NURSE EDUCATOR SCIENTISTS
Programs of research often start with a vision and are grounded in the researcher’s passion and worldview. Academics routinely encounter interesting areas for exploration in their teaching practice; however, even with multiple ideas for research, we must be strategic and immerse ourselves in the literature, network at conferences, and watch for potential funding opportunities. Importantly, for researchers in nursing education, the wisdom of a mentor for guidance and direction can be invaluable. Following are recommendations for beginning your career trajectory, followed by the story of our seven-year research partnership.
Building a Research Team
To build a productive, collaborative team, it is important to identify individuals with diverse areas of expertise. Do not hesitate to include team members outside your institution or external to nursing education. Appreciate that all team members will have strengths and weaknesses and embrace the unique contributions each brings to the team. Their intellectual input can only enhance the final product and facilitate the formulation of next steps. Make clear each member’s role and strategically plan to alternate roles as teaching loads and academic promotion needs shift over time.
Remember, it is the science and not the methodology that should drive a research program (Gennaro, 2022). Explore and cultivate different aspects of your program. Think of this trajectory as an iterative process and always be planning and recording future possibilities. Some ideas will come to fruition, others will fade away or evolve into other projects.
Meeting the Challenges
The challenge most often expressed by educators is a lack of time for scholarship. Thus, an important step in being successful in one’s research trajectory is management and intentional protection of time for research. Mark a block of time on the calendar and remain committed to working on some aspect of scholarship during that dedicated time. Having team members who hold us accountable can help in meeting this goal. Respectfully decline research invitations that do not meet the priorities of your program of research or threaten your ability to meet deadlines in your current projects.
Lack of recognition and support for research in nursing education continues to impact some researchers in nursing education. For example, employment in institutions where teaching is emphasized to the exclusion of research can be a major deterrent. Obtaining support, whether personal or financial, can also be a barrier to overcome. The presence of a diverse team will help minimize barriers and generate creative approaches to conducting and implementing research projects. Apply for funding opportunities through professional organizations. Small research grants can be an excellent resource.
THE STORY OF ONE TEAM
Following is our seven-year story. We hope that it captures and highlights the passion, perseverance, and dedication each of us has toward improving nursing education for students who are veterans and the faculty who teach them, and for the care of veterans as a vulnerable population. Our research trajectory started with seeking a mentor and the building of a collaborative research team.
Two of us, sharing a common interest in veterans emanating from personal experiences and dissertation research, worked together to conduct a descriptive, national, online survey on how schools of nursing addressed the Joining Forces initiative. This was our first study together, and our findings indicated there was significant work nurse educators needed to do to ensure competent care for veterans. Making the pledge to Joining Forces was only a starting point. The study findings reinforced that military- and veteran-specific content needed to be incorporated into nursing curricula, helping us visualize and create our research path for the next six years. It was at this point that we recognized the need to add another like-minded colleague to our two-person team.
Here is how our team evolved. Living in different cities and, at times, on different continents, it would be years before the three of us met face-to-face. However, we met virtually every two to four weeks to discuss the current study and its dissemination, as well as to build on the findings of our previous studies and gaps in the literature. As our team began to explore ways to collaborate and align interests, it became clear that we needed to cultivate varying aspects of military nursing, nursing education, and broader issues of health care for veterans, because these were our areas of passion. As nurse educators, we understood the importance of being able to directly link these topical areas and our research to both teaching and clinical practice.
We decided to begin our trajectory by determining what was happening in nursing education. To this end, over the course of the next three years, we conducted two studies, one describing the transition of the military nurse to nurse faculty and the other focused on the student veteran’s transition to nursing education. Both transition experiences provided insight into the impact of military culture on nursing education and nursing practice. A significant finding highlighted in both studies was the key element of leadership, as both students and faculty exhibited leadership attributes in their transition to academia.
Another question that arose from these studies was how prelicensure students were learning about veteran care. To answer that question, we decided to examine military/veteran content in nursing textbooks used in prelicensure programs. We then connected what we learned from these data to veteran care competencies and realized that a book for educators and practitioners was needed, given the very limited focus in nursing textbooks. We engaged professional colleagues with expertise in veteran care and education to write some of the chapters and published a book that has already received two distinguished awards.
Our active networking with colleagues who were publishing in this area has led to opportunities for multisite research. We connected with and joined a team of researchers who were focused on predictors of progression in students enrolled in veterans’ bachelor of science programs. Most recently, based on evidence that faculty have limited knowledge in teaching veteran-specific content, we implemented an intervention study examining the effects of a faculty development workshop and timed digital messages to prepare faculty to teach veteran care competencies.
Employing an iterative process in our research trajectory, we actively work on one project as we brainstorm and conceptualize the next. Each study triggers ideas for the next one or two studies. We have never been awarded any large funding although it has not been for a lack of trying, but we have received small grants for almost every study and have been able to recognize the contributions of our participants. For seven years, we have crafted a multifaceted program of research that hinges on the military/veteran population in some respect. Prioritizing dissemination, we have presented and published every study we conducted (see Supplemental Content for a list of our published work and presentations, available at https://links.lww.com/NEP/A400).
Always looking ahead and based on early findings, we plan to circle back to military nurse leaders and examine their influence on the profession after a career of service in the military. We also have plans to expand our understanding of the attitudes of nursing students on the care of veterans to complete a 360-degree examination of all of the parts that impact veteran care outcomes. Some team members have also conducted parallel research on various aspects of the clinical care of veterans. Collectively, we are adding to the body of evidence for nursing and nursing education. Importantly, along the way, we have celebrated accomplishments, presentations, publications, friendship, and passion.
A program of research will make a difference in nursing education. Nurse educator scientists must harness the power of data to transform nursing education through inquiry. Through lifelong learning, persistence, and a spirit of inquiry, educators and the evidence we generate can make a difference in student outcomes and ultimately patient care.
Beck C. T. (2016). Developing a program of research in nursing
Gennaro S. (2022). Research trajectories: Troubling trends. Journal of Nursing Scholarship
, 54, 401–402. 10.1111/jmu.12802
Jeffries P. R. (Ed.), (2023). Clinical simulations in nursing education: Advanced concepts, trends, and opportunities
. National League for Nursing Press.