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05-04-2019 | A Qualitative Space | Uitgave 2/2019 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 2/2019

How phenomenology can help us learn from the experiences of others

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 2/2019
Brian E. Neubauer, Catherine T. Witkop, Lara Varpio
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The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the US Air Force, Department of Defense, or the US Government.



As a research methodology, phenomenology is uniquely positioned to help health professions education (HPE) scholars learn from the experiences of others. Phenomenology is a form of qualitative research that focuses on the study of an individual’s lived experiences within the world. Although it is a powerful approach for inquiry, the nature of this methodology is often intimidating to HPE researchers. This article aims to explain phenomenology by reviewing the key philosophical and methodological differences between two of the major approaches to phenomenology: transcendental and hermeneutic. Understanding the ontological and epistemological assumptions underpinning these approaches is essential for successfully conducting phenomenological research.


This review provides an introduction to phenomenology and demonstrates how it can be applied to HPE research. We illustrate the two main sub-types of phenomenology and detail their ontological, epistemological, and methodological differences.


Phenomenology is a powerful research strategy that is well suited for exploring challenging problems in HPE. By building a better understanding of the nature of phenomenology and working to ensure proper alignment between the specific research question and the researcher’s underlying philosophy, we hope to encourage HPE scholars to consider its utility when addressing their research questions.
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