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Focused ethnography as an approach in medical education research

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Context: Over recent decades, the use of qualitative methodologies has increased in medical education research. These include ethnographic approaches, which have been used to explore complex cultural norms and phenomena by way of long-term engagement in the field of research. Often, however, medical education consists of short-term episodes that are not bound to single sites, but take place in a myriad of locations and contexts such as classrooms, examination stations, clinical settings and online. This calls for methodologies that allow us to grasp what is at stake in an increasingly multifaceted and diverse field. Methods: In this article, we direct attention to focused ethnography, which has emerged as a useful, suitable and feasible applied qualitative research approach, and which uses adapted classic ethnographic methods, such as direct observation, to gain new insights and nuanced understandings of distinct phenomena, themes and interactions in specific settings in medical education (eg the learning potential of ward rounds, or how hierarchical positions affect learning situations). We introduce methodological key features of focused ethnography to give insights into how the approach can be used, and we offer examples of how the method has been used in medical education research to show how it has contributed in different ways to the field of medical education research. Furthermore, we address and discuss some of the main challenges and limitations of the approach. Conclusions: Focused ethnography offers a methodological approach that sheds light over limited and well-defined social episodes and interactions. Precisely because the field of medical education consists to a large degree of such fragmented interactions, focused ethnography can be seen as a methodology tailored to these characteristics and should become an integrated part of the toolkit of medical education research.

TidsskriftMedical Education
Sider (fra-til)296-302
Antal sider7
StatusUdgivet - apr. 2020

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© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and The Association for the Study of Medical Education.

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