Health professionals learning qualitative research in their workplace: a focused ethnography

Luca Ghirotto, Ludovica De Panfilis, Silvia Di Leo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: The interest for qualitative research methodology has expanded beyond theoretical academic research on medical education, gathering interest from all healthcare professionals. Qualitative research has potentials in exploring the social, emotional, psychological aspects of care and in broadening professionals' scientific competencies. Nonetheless, qualitative research has still not been embraced within formal and academic curricula for future professionals, preventing newer generations from appreciating the value of its epistemological and methodological aspects and from using it in the development and implementation of clinical research. The purpose of this study was to comprehend the attitudes of health professionals learning and conducting qualitative studies within a practical training program developed in their workplace.

METHODS: The present work consisted of a focused ethnography, including 14 professionals during their one-year attendance training on qualitative research methodology. Strategies used for collecting data included participant observations, field notes, semi-structured interviews, and a focus group. All the data were analyzed consistently with ethnographic indications.

RESULTS: Analyses allowed us to evidence the educational, motivational, group-related and organizational factors influencing the attitudes and skill acquisition of healthcare professionals learning and conducting qualitative research within a practical training program developed in their workplace. Prior educational background was perceived as a sort of barrier. Nonetheless, the training boosted a change in attitude both in terms of appreciation of the research approach and trainees' emotional involvement with research participants. Doing a qualitative study in a multidisciplinary team raised in-group dynamics that hindered bringing the studies to conclusion. Trainees repeatedly lamented the difficulty in managing time to devote to research-related activities and questioned the feasibility of adopting this methodology for conducting research in their workplace.

CONCLUSIONS: Continual education training on the methodological aspects and practical implications of qualitative research may foster a renewed attitude towards one's professional education, while making inter-professional relationship issues emerge. Nonetheless, broadening the perspectives of professionals on their clinical practice by means of learning qualitative methodology may have an evident quality improvement return. Strategies for future qualitative research methodology hands-on training addressed to health professionals in continuing education are proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number269
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 17 2020


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