IACRN Helps Prepare, Support Clinical Research Nurses
A relatively young organization, the International Association of Clinical Research Nurses (IACRN) was founded 11 years ago to support and advance the specialty practice of clinical research nursing. Later this month, members will gather in Philadelphia for the annual conference focused on education, best practices and key issues impacting the field.
"It is the only conference and only organization dedicated to and run by research nurses specifically," said 2019 IACRN President Mary E. Larkin, RN, MS, CDE.
Larkin, the nurse manager and assistant director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Research Center, said the organization was founded by a group of nurse managers from general clinical research centers who recognized the research environment was beginning to change. "They realized they needed to branch out to other areas, so they broadened their mission and founded the IACRN," Larkin explained. "We have 370 members now, and they represent 21 countries," she continued.
From its inception, the chief goals of the organization have been to define the role of research nursing and support those practicing, as well as to spark interest for the next generation of clinical trial nurses to come.
While many research nurses are still concentrated in large academic centers or regulatory settings, clinical trials increasingly are expanding into community settings, requiring trained professionals to manage implementation of the research protocol. Larkin noted that the basic qualification to become a clinical research nurse is to be a licensed or registered nurse (or the non-U.S. equivalent in other countries). "Research nurses bring to the clinical arena their skills as a nurse, then they learn a whole new body of knowledge, which is all about research," said Larkin. "They are the key members of the research team who bridge those two disciplines."
Larkin said the most important quality is to "first and foremost be a skilled nurse." Additionally, she said research nurses need to learn and understand the science of the research protocol, be meticulous in implementing and following that protocol precisely and in collecting quality data, focus on clinical care and safety first, and advocate on behalf of patients enrolled in the trial. Without an eye to detail, Larkin said it's far too easy to miss data points or wind up with poor quality data.
As with many medical specialties, there is a shortage of practitioners. "By highlighting the awareness and contribution of research nurses in the scientific community, we are on our way to helping new nurses choose this as a field," said Larkin.
IACRN is currently developing new educational programming to provide to undergraduate nursing programs that introduces the research specialty to nursing students earlier in their studies. While there are some graduate courses in research nursing, Larkin said most of today's professionals have honed their skill with on-the-job training.
"In 2016, we published the scope and standards of practice for clinical research nursing. That makes IACRN the 'go to' place for resources and education," said Larkin, adding that while there are other clinical trials-based organizations, none are solely focused on the role of nurses in the process. The professional association is also in the process of creating a certification program to signify excellence in the field.
The upcoming conference is another opportunity to enhance knowledge by addressing issues from query resolution to mitigating risk and by sharing best practices. In addition to a focus on clinical skills, Larkin said the conference also includes sessions on trials administration and data collection methodology. Connie M. Ulrich, PhD, MSN, RN, FAAN, professor of bioethics and nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, is delivering this year's keynote address: "Ethical Issues in the Recruitment and Retention of Patient-Participants in Clinical Research."
Additionally, the conference includes 37 on-site posters and, new this year, virtual poster presentations from international colleagues unable to attend in person. "We are really working toward building an international community of research nurses learning about research nurse practice throughout the world," said Larkin.
With a quest to continue to grow the organization and raise awareness of the field, she added non-members working as research nurses or those interested in the field are welcome to register for the three-day conference. Information is online at IACRN.org.
"Research nurses have the ability to impact the outcomes of clinical trials and really move the science forward," Larkin said of the profession. "We think clinical research participants all deserve to have a nurse at their side."