Phenomenological Research in Health Professions Education: Tunneling from Both Ends

Chris B.T. Rietmeijer*, Mario Veen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


Issue: The term “phenomenology” is increasingly being used in Health Professions Education research. Phenomenology refers to a philosophical tradition or discipline. For researchers in Health Professions Education without a philosophical or humanities background, there are two practical problems. The first is that it is not always clear how studies that call themselves “phenomenological” are distinct from studies that use other methods; phenomenology as a label seems to be used for any study that is interested in the experiences of participants. The second problem is that a more in-depth study of phenomenology in the literature yields either abstract definitions such as “examining the underlying structures of consciousness,” or contrasting translations of phenomenology to concrete research tools. What would phenomenology in medical education research look like that is both true to its philosophical roots and yields research findings that contribute to the quality of medical education?  

Evidence: Two medical education researchers, one with a medical background and the other with a philosophy background, engaged in a dialogue with the purpose of formulating an approach for phenomenology in medical education research. The first departed from the practical demands of his research project in which phenomenology was suggested as a methodology, but guidance was lacking. The other departed from the philosophical tradition of phenomenology with the purpose of exploring how phenomenological insights can be valuable for medical education research. The paper presents these journeys and the results of this dialogue where they formulate starting points for an approach to conducting HPE research that has scientific phenomenological integrity and yields practical results. 

Implications: Phenomenology has been one of the defining developments in philosophy and the humanities in the 20th century. A basic grasp of its insights is useful for medical education researchers since any research today takes place in the light of these insights. Within medical education, there are certain types of phenomena, research questions, and research goals that call for an explicitly phenomenological approach. Rather than prescribing specific methods or methodologies, phenomenology offers signposts for how to think about the relationship between our research object, methods, and data, and our own role as researchers. We suggest that researchers in HPE, when reporting a phenomenological study, instead of claiming to have followed a certain phenomenological method, explain how their research question, methods, and results fit the purposes and standards of phenomenology. We illustrate this with an example of how to use phenomenology in an interview study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-121
Number of pages9
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number1
Early online date29 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Marilyn Hedges for her feedback on English grammar and style.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


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