Access to and use of research by rural nurses

C A Winters, H J Lee, J Besel, A Strand, R Echeverri, K P Jorgensen, J E Dea
Rural and Remote Health 2007, 7 (3): 758

INTRODUCTION: The use of relevant research findings to inform clinical practice is important for nurses, regardless of setting. Although there have been studies addressing the use of research among various practitioners, little is known about how nurses in rural areas access health information (specifically research findings), nor how such findings are incorporated into daily practice. The purpose of this study was to explore rural nurses' access, use and perceived usefulness of research for rural practice.

METHODS: The study was conducted in a sparsely populated state located in the western part of the USA. An ethnographic method was chosen to answer the research questions for this descriptive study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 29 rural nurses from nine communities by graduate nursing students enrolled in a rural nursing course following in-class instruction and practice. Field notes taken by the students supplemented the interview data. The students' notes included a windshield survey or description of the context and location within which the participants lived and/or practiced as well as the interviewers' observations, thoughts and impressions about the research project. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Once transcribed, the interview narratives, windshield data and field notes were analyzed by the students for common themes; the students then wrote and submitted papers to the faculty addressing the themes that emerged from their interviews. The analysis conducted by the faculty members included four sources of data: transcriptions of interviews; field notes; windshield data; and students' papers. The process of identifying themes was facilitated by using the software program NUD*IST (QSR International; Melbourne, VIC, Australia). Demographic information was entered into the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS Inc; Chicago, IL, USA) to compile descriptive information about the sample.

FINDINGS: Twenty-seven female and two male nurses participated in the study. The nurses' ages ranged from 31-72 years and their experience in nursing spanned 3-50 years with a range of 1 to 35 years in rural nursing. The interviews revealed that most of the nurses used the term 'research' to mean 'gathering information'. When asked how often they used 'research' the responses ranged from 2-3 times per day to 2-3 times per month. The preferred means of obtaining information was asking a colleague. Additional resources included work-place journals, books, in-services, conferences and the internet. Twenty-three of the nurses reported having internet access at work; 25 had internet access at home. Supportive supervisors and articles in general nursing journals were identified as helpful. Barriers to using research included: lack of knowledge of research methods; lack of time at work or at home to look up information; and the lack of computers and internet access on the nursing units. When computers were available, the nurses reported that poor computer literacy decreased their ability to quickly find and evaluate information. Additional barriers included diminishing financial support from employers and the long travel distances required to attend conferences. The nurses reported finding little clinical research specifically related to rural practice.

CONCLUSIONS: Education and mentorship is needed about how to evaluate the types and strength of evidence, access research using the internet, interpret findings, and incorporate evidence in clinical practice. Interventions that foster the appreciation and use of research by staff nurses and managers are needed in order to build an evidence based culture. Research is needed, specifically as related to rural clinical practice.

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