Variability in qualifications for principal investigator status in research studies by nurses: A call for clarification

Published:October 31, 2022DOI:


      • IRB requirements for Principal Investigator (PI) status vary substantially.
      • This variability creates barriers to pediatric nurse scientists serving as PIs.
      • New knowledge in pediatric nursing is critical to achieving health equity.
      • Recognition of pediatric nurse scientists as PIs for research studies is needed.



      To describe existing guidance for qualifications of principal investigator s (PI s) of human subjects research and explore how they are operationalized for pediatric nurse scientists and clinical nurses in children's hospitals.

      Design and methods

      After reviewing federal regulations, accreditation guidelines, and the literature, a convenience sample of members of the National Pediatric Nurse Scientist Collaborative (NPNSC). Participants completed a 33-item survey that included questions about Institutional Review Board (IRB), guidelines, and policies for PI status at their affiliated children's hospitals.


      The survey was electronically disseminated to 179 members of NPNSC through the Collaborative's listserv. Of the 39 members who responded, 90% hold a PhD and 80% practice in a free-standing children's hospital, nearly all of which (93%) are recognized as Magnet® hospitals. While the majority of respondents indicated that nurse scientists and other nurses were allowed to be PIs of research studies, educational requirements for PI status varied, with 3% requiring a PhD, 15% a baccalaureate degree, and 10% a graduate degree. 54% of respondents reported there was no degree requirement for PI status; however15% reported that even doctorally prepared nurse scientists cannot serve as PIs of research studies at their affiliated children’'s hospitals.


      The survey identified substantial variability in requirements for PI status and potential barriers to pediatric nurses conducting independent research as PIs at children's hospitals.

      Practice implications

      Operationalizing existing guidance will expand inclusion of nurse scientist expertise in human subjects research.


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