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13-03-2018 | A Qualitative Space | Uitgave 2/2018 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 2/2018

Ethical dilemmas and reflexivity in qualitative research

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 2/2018
Anne-Marie Reid, Jeremy M. Brown, Julie M. Smith, Alexandra C. Cope, Susan Jamieson
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Editor’s Note: Commentary by: E. Paradise, https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-018-0414-0.



For medical education researchers, a key concern may be the practicalities of gaining ethical approval where this is a national or local requirement. However, in qualitative studies, where the dynamics of human interaction pervade, ethical considerations are an ongoing process which continues long after approval has been granted. Responding to ethical dilemmas arising ‘in the moment’ requires a reflexive approach whereby the researcher questions his/her own motivations, assumptions and interests. Drawing on empirical studies and their experiences in academic and clinical research practice, the authors share their reflections on adhering to ethical principles throughout the research process to illustrate the complexities and nuances involved.

Objectives and findings

These reflections offer critical insights into dilemmas arising in view of the ethical principles driving good conduct, and through domains which distinguish between procedural ethics, situational ethics, ethical relationships and ethical issues in exiting the study. The accounts consider integrity and altruism in research, gatekeeping and negotiating access, consent and confidentiality, power dynamics and role conflict, and challenges in dissemination of findings. The experiences are based on a range of examples of research in a UK context from managing difficult conversations in the classroom to video-ethnography in the operating theatre.

Discussion and conclusions

These critical reflections make visible the challenges encountered and decisions that must be taken in the moment and on reflection after the event. Through sharing our experiences and debating the decisions we made, we offer insights into reflexivity in qualitative research which will be of value to others.
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