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Nursing excellence: Turn to APNs to meet your nursing research needs


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Getting staff nurses involved in research is not easy. Along with the additional time and work required to complete a project, it’s difficult to find mentors who have the extra hours to guide nurses through the process.

“After achieving [ANCC Magnet Recognition Program® (MRP)] designation, to move forward and maintain [status], we knew we needed to involve staff nurses in research, quality improvement, and patient safety projects,” says Maureen Cavanagh, RN, C-EFM, MS, MAHCM, an APN at St. Peter’s Health Care Services—a 2005 MRP recipient—in Albany, NY. “And the people who had the skills to really lead and mentor nurses for those projects were the APNs.”

Cavanagh and colleague Patricia Newell-Helfant, RNC, MS, CPNP, also an APN, are helping St. Peter’s meet the nursing research participation expectation under Component IV: New knowledge, innovations, and improvements by pairing APNs with staff nurses. In the past two years, the new relationships have resulted in six national research presentations by staff nurses—six more than the facility had seen in the previous 25 years.

Get APNs on board

Although St. Peter’s, a 442-bed facility, has an APN for every clinical area, they weren’t all on board to be research mentors. But with the help of organizational support, many APNs were able to take on the new time commitment.

“The role of the APN had been focused heavily on education and orientation, and we needed it to move toward research and quality improvement,” Cavanagh says. “So with organizational support, [administration] discovered other ways to accomplish education and orientation activities to allow APNs, who had skills in research and quality improvement, more time to mentor nurses.”

But APNs were not the only ones who felt that lack of time was an issue with research—staff nurses felt the same way. That’s where the nurse manager came in.

“The nurse managers have really been the unsung heroes,” says Cavanagh. “They have been excellent with trying to help staff nurses carve out time to conduct research projects.”

Be a mentor

Cavanagh first used her leadership skills to help shape the hospital’s research council. She achieved this by sharing each step of her research project on moral distress with the council, which consists of staff nurses and APNs. Throughout her project, Cavanagh shared how to:

  • Develop a timeline
  • Develop a demographic tool
  • Look at data
  • Analyze data
  • Display results

“Every time I got to a new phase of the project, I went back to the research council and basically did a show-and-tell of what was taking place,” says Cavanagh. “This was to help people on the council who had a research idea use my template to begin their project.”

Just as Cavanagh displayed during her research project, APNs are happy to help nurses at a moment’s notice. “There are a few appointments, but most of the time it’s ‘Do you have a minute?’ and you don’t say no,” says Newell-Helfant. “It’s about being available to them all the time.”

APNs still focus on education and orientation, but there is a greater concentration on being a research mentor with the expectations of:

  • Leading nurses in research projects
  • Mentoring nurses in the research process and use of evidence-based practice (EBP)
  • Collaborating with other disciplines to implement EBP
  • Helping nurses submit abstracts for poster or podium presentations at national conferences
  • Helping and encouraging nurses to publish research outcomes

Showcase research

In addition to mentoring staff nurses throughout their research projects, APNs focus on helping them create posters, write abstracts, and showcase their research outcomes.

APNs hold nurses accountable for their research projects by consistently checking in and asking:

  • Where are you with your project?
  • Are you falling off your timeline?
  • What can I do to help you?

“We use nurses’ projects as a vehicle to get staff out of the organization to national conferences to present and exchange ideas and bring others’ ideas back to the hospital to implement them,” says Cavanagh.

But the APNs didn’t always know how to create a poster or write an abstract. They taught themselves by searching the Web and using sites such as www.postersession.com. The site is user-friendly and features a variety of poster templates to choose from, says Cavanagh.

APNs work alongside staff nurses to create posters and write abstracts. In the past two years, six staff nurses have presented at national conferences—a huge jump after “not having a staff nurse attend a conference in 25 years,” says Newell-Helfant.

Despite the struggling economy, St. Peter’s pays for all travel expenses if a nurse gets a poster or an abstract accepted.

“This is a huge incentive for staff who have never been to a conference before,” says Newell-Helfant. “I now come into work and I hear staff nurses talking about the abstracts they are writing. It’s been a lot of growth for all of us.”

The staff nurses’ projects are showcased during the hospital’s Nursing Day Inquiry.

During this event, local or national speakers come to the hospital to present on nursing research or EBP, and all nursing projects, whether completed or in motion, are showcased.

See success through outcomes

Cavanagh and Newell-Helfant are pleased with the results they’ve seen from pairing APNs with staff nurses.

“It’s been good to be able to have some documented patient outcomes for us APNs,” says Cavanagh. “Staff become excited about their outcomes, so that fuels an enthusiasm within the division for people to really embrace projects when they know that they can be successful. And I think it improves morale.”