March 24, 2006

Research nurse career pathway outlined

Featured Image

Gordon Bernard, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Research, center, talks with nurses Tonya Yarbrough, left, and Terri Hagan about the research nurses career advancement program.
Photo by Dana Johnson

Research nurse career pathway outlined

Over the past five years, Vanderbilt University Medical Center has experienced one of the highest growth rates in the country in its National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.

Despite the expansion of programs and buildings to accommodate this growth, there was one piece missing — the development of the research nurse career pathway.

“The increase in research has resulted in the need to recruit additional research personnel and to identify ways to retain experienced personnel, especially research nurses,” said Terri Hagan, a research services consultant for Research Support Services.

“With the incredible growth in our research enterprise, investigators have become more verbal about how difficult it is to not only recruit experienced research nurses, but to retain them. Recruitment and retention has not been an easy task,” she said.

In an effort to address these concerns, new job descriptions for research nurses were recently adopted.

The task was spearheaded by a subcommittee of the Clinical Research Staff Council (CRSC) with input from research nurses, clinical investigators, the Office of Research and the Department of Nursing.

The group created a career pathway that defines specific job classifications to assist in the advancement of research nurses at various levels at Vanderbilt.

Gordon Bernard, M.D., and Tonya Yarbrough were also heavily involved in pilot testing the feasibility of this project.

“Before this career trajectory, there were only two career paths, research nurse or clinical research specialist, which limited them to only two pay codes. Nurses quickly topped out, making it difficult to retain them because there was very little reward for staying,” Hagan said.

The Research Nurse Forum, organized around 1990, morphed into the CRSC in January 2005. It is now open to all clinical research staff interested in participating in Vanderbilt’s Shared Governance program.

The CRSC, with a mailing list of about 250 people, provides an organized forum for initiating improvements, sharing information and discussing changes that affect research. There are now four job descriptions for research nurses — Research Nurse Specialist I, II, III and IV — which incorporate recognition and reward for length of experience, excellence and level of responsibility.

The four job codes are:

• Research Nurse Specialist I: an entry-level position requiring one year of nursing experience and the ability to coordinate basic research with assistance.

• Research Nurse Specialist II: requires one year of research experience and has the responsibility for conducting multiple studies or complex, investigator initiated studies with minimal assistance/oversight as well as preparing and completing IRB applications.

• Research Nurse Specialist III: requires five years research experience and an advanced degree or certification is recommended. Will assist in grant/protocol development, negotiating contracts, preparing IRB applications and budgets, conducting coordinating center operations of multiple study sites and interpreting data and reviewing analyses to perform quality assurance.

• Research Nurse Specialist IV: requires 10 years research experience and an advanced degree or certification. Works autonomously to generate business relationships, increase funding, design new studies and study tools and present information at formal, educational sessions.

The job titles for nurses previously classified as Research Nurses will automatically change to Research Nurse Specialist I. Nurses currently classified as Research Clinical Specialists are encouraged to reclassify under the most appropriate job description using the new job code.

“This particular system is totally exclusive to Vanderbilt,” said Hagan. “This has been a huge undertaking, requiring the cooperation of several groups of people. Prior to this (job qualification system), we lost a lot of nurses to industry, other hospitals in the area and research facilities. Now we are very competitive with those organizations.

“It is great to have this opportunity to reward research nurses. I'm really proud of the institution for making this commitment.”