Preparing for your research: The benefits of shadowing

As the new official blog writer of ECRAG, I was eager to contribute to one of the sessions and recently gave a talk with the same title as this blog.  As I may have mentioned before, for my project ‘Communicating information from MRI: Patient and parent views’, I will be researching patient families about how they understand, value and emotionally respond to seeing medical images of their (or their child’s) condition [1], using interviews.

Interviews are sometimes seen as a “quick and dirty” [2] research method, compared to say, an ethnographic approach, which draws on a range of data collection methods (though, as I’ve always said, there is no ‘best’ method, just what’s ‘best’ for the research question/s [3]).

Burgess (2004) points out that interviews are “rarely conducted in isolation” [4].  If not used with other research methods, then they implicitly draw upon the researcher’s knowledge, experience and understanding.

With no prior experience of working in a hospital, and not being from a medical background, I read a lot around topics such as the patient’s experience of cancer [5], and how healthcare professionals communicate with patients [6], to prepare.  However, it was suggested to me that it might be helpful to speak to some of the healthcare professionals, and to watch them working on the wards (if the patient families didn’t mind).  Everyone was incredibly accommodating.  Any words or events that stood out to me as interesting or unusual, I jotted down (if it wouldn’t distract anyone) and wrote it up in full as soon as I got an opportunity, to reflect on later.

I found shadowing helped a lot with understanding the patient ‘journey’ and their experience more, but also with knowledge that requires a more “practical mastery”, an “implicit and pre-reflective feel…which guides action within social arenas” [7].  Such as which discussion topics are acceptable with patient families, and engaging and conversing with young patients (and I still want to a do more before I start…). I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone and everyone preparing to undertake qualitative research, especially for the first time, or in a new field.  In the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘nothing that is worth knowing can be taught’…

Natalie Tyldesley-Marshall

[1] Tyldesley-Marshall, N. (2016) Where do I begin? – Paediatric project perspective

[2] Cassell, C. (2009) ‘Interviews in organizational research’, in Buchanan and Bryman. (eds) The Sage handbook of organizational research. London: Sage, pp.500-515, p.511. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=vVs2EoDjm78C&pg=PA511&lpg=PA511&dq

[3] Tyldesley-Marshall, N. (2016) What is qualitative research?

[4] Burgess, R.G. (2004) In the field: an introduction to fieldwork. London: Sage, p.106.

[5] Darcy et al. (2014) ‘The everyday life of the young child shortly after receiving a cancer diagnosis’, from both children’s and parent’s perspectives’, Cancer Nursing, 37 (6). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259650668

[6] Redshaw and Harvey. (2016) ‘Explanations and information-giving: clinician strategies used in talking to parents of preterm infants’, from both children’s and parent’s perspectives’, BMC Paediatrics, 25. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308709046

[7] Riach, K. (2009) ‘Exploring participant-centred reflexivity in the interview situation’, Sociology, 43 (2). http://www.jstor.org/stable/42857258




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