• nursing research;
  • role conflict;
  • ethics;
  • coronary artery bypass surgery;
  • waiting lists;
  • mortality

Background.  Nurses conducting clinical research frequently encounter ethically challenging situations that require careful analysis if the decisions taken are to be in the best interests of participants, researchers and society. There is a lack of literature which discusses the ethical aspects of the nurse's role in clinical research studies.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to discuss the ethical conflicts and decisions taken during a combined qualitative and quantitative study of patients’ experiences whilst awaiting coronary bypass surgery.

Discussion.  Ethical conflict arose because, despite having gained ethics approval for a non-interventional study, the researcher became concerned for the health of some research participants, whose condition was observed to have deteriorated. During the course of the study four of the 70 participants died. As a result, changes to the original research protocol were negotiated and subsequently the researcher intervened in cases where participants’ clinical condition had worsened.

Conclusion.  Nurses conducting clinical research studies can face serious ethical dilemmas, particularly if participants’ health is at risk. This paper demonstrates the potential for both role conflict and role convergence in nursing research. We contend that since the roles of researcher and clinician are not mutually exclusive, the interface between the two requires further discussion. The paper may to help inform other researchers who struggle with the issue of non-intervention when presented with research participants in need of professional nursing care.