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What makes a good nurse research supervisor?

Published on: 30 May 2023

Understand why a nurse research supervisor job is a privilege and how it can contribute to the next generation of nurse researchers.

What makes a good nurse research supervisor?

The position of research supervisor is pivotal in doctoral education and they can make a huge contribution to the next generation of nurse researchers

Supervision is a critical feature of research education and training and yet there is often limited attention paid to the skills and expertise required. Good supervision can motivate and inspire students to develop into strong independent scholars. Poor supervision leads to negative experiences, frustration, poor performance and limited professional development.

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People often begin research supervision shortly after completing their own research training. They may have limited research or supervision experience to reflect on, so can either build on good role modelling or perpetuate negative practices.

Key characteristics of a good nurse research supervisor

A key characteristic of a good nurse research supervisor is an appreciation of individual needs, and the kind of support that each nursing student requires. Accepting diversity and understanding professional, cultural and learning needs and life circumstances ensures that the student-supervisor relationship is student-focused and promotes engagement.

Nurse research supervisors also need to provide prompt, positive and clear feedback. It is unhelpful to be overly critical, to not review the work promptly or to provide a vague sweeping critique that does not tell student nurses how to improve their work.

Good nurse research supervisors are reliable and do what they say that they will do.

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Positive research supervision needs to extend beyond the supervisory relationship. Nurse research supervisors should be role models of quality and ethical scholarly practices in their research, their interactions with others, and should speak up when they see suboptimal nursing practice.

Small actions can boost student nurse morale, enhance confidence and motivate

Finally, nurse research supervisors need to champion and advocate for their student nurses, supporting and encouraging their professional development and ensuring they are well-supported and can access the required resources. They should provide collaboration opportunities to build skills and experience and celebrate their nursing students’ personal and professional achievements.

Small actions, such as sharing a social media post or hosting a celebration morning tea, can boost student nurse morale, enhance confidence and motivate the whole team.

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Being a nurse research supervisor is a privilege. The opportunity to contribute to the next generation of nurse researchers should not be taken lightly. All nurse research supervisors have a responsibility to strive to improve their supervision practices. We need to start the discussion and foster debate about nurse research supervision and its effects on doctoral education.

Elizabeth Halcomb is professor of primary healthcare nursing, School of Nursing, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia and editor of Nurse Researcher

This is an abridged version of the article What makes a good nurse research supervisor? which was first published in Nurse Researcher

Read more about nurse research in the RCNi journal Nurse Researcher

You will find more nursing careers articles on Nursing Standard