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To what extent do nurses use research in clinical practice? A systematic review

Janet E Squires1*, Alison M Hutchinson2, Anne-Marie Boström3, Hannah M O'Rourke4, Sandra J Cobban45 and Carole A Estabrooks4

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada

2 Faculty of Nursing, Deakin University, and Cabrini-Deakin Centre for Nursing Research, Cabrini Institute, Cabrini Health, Melbourne, Australia

3 Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Science, Division of Nursing, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

4 Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

5 Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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Implementation Science 2011, 6:21  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-21

Published: 17 March 2011



In the past forty years, many gains have been made in our understanding of the concept of research utilization. While numerous studies exist on professional nurses' use of research in practice, no attempt has been made to systematically evaluate and synthesize this body of literature with respect to the extent to which nurses use research in their clinical practice. The objective of this study was to systematically identify and analyze the available evidence related to the extent to which nurses use research findings in practice.


This study was a systematic review of published and grey literature. The search strategy included 13 online bibliographic databases: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, HAPI, Web of Science, SCOPUS, OCLC Papers First, OCLC WorldCat, ABI Inform, Sociological Abstracts, and Dissertation Abstracts. The inclusion criteria consisted of primary research reports that assess professional nurses' use of research in practice, written in the English or Scandinavian languages. Extent of research use was determined by assigning research use scores reported in each article to one of four quartiles: low, moderate-low, moderate-high, or high.


Following removal of duplicate citations, a total of 12,418 titles were identified through database searches, of which 133 articles were retrieved. Of the articles retrieved, 55 satisfied the inclusion criteria. The 55 final reports included cross-sectional/survey (n = 51) and quasi-experimental (n = 4) designs. A sensitivity analysis, comparing findings from all reports with those rated moderate (moderate-weak and moderate-strong) and strong quality, did not show significant differences. In a majority of the articles identified (n = 38, 69%), nurses reported moderate-high research use.


According to this review, nurses' reported use of research is moderate-high and has remained relatively consistent over time until the early 2000's. This finding, however, may paint an overly optimistic picture of the extent to which nurses use research in their practice given the methodological problems inherent in the majority of studies. There is a clear need for the development of standard measures of research use and robust well-designed studies examining nurses' use of research and its impact on patient outcomes. The relatively unchanged self-reports of moderate-high research use by nurses is troubling given that over 40 years have elapsed since the first studies in this review were conducted and the increasing emphasis in the past 15 years on evidence-based practice. More troubling is the absence of studies in which attempts are made to assess the effects of varying levels of research use on patient outcomes.