Methodological and Ethical Considerations when Conducting Qualitative Interview Research With Healthcare Professionals: Reflections and Recommendations as a Result of a Pandemic
Pilbeam C., Anthierens S., Vanderslott S., Tonkin-Crine S., Wanat M.
The impacts of healthcare professionals (HCPs) being research participants are often neglected. As professionals, they tend to be perceived as ‘immune’ to many negative effects of sharing their experiences. However, in the context of an ongoing global pandemic such as COVID-19, these assumptions can be clearly challenged. This article draws on researchers’ experiences of conducting single and longitudinal qualitative interviews with HCPs during the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe during 2020. Reflecting on the methodological and ethical implications of doing such research during a pandemic allows researchers to surface assumptions about and question categories of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘sensitivity’. We explore these categories in relation to three issues we have identified: (i) Blurred boundaries in researcher-participant relationships; (ii) Interviews as spaces to process experiences; and (iii) Motivations to conduct and participate in research. We demonstrate that qualitative interviews during a pandemic are embedded in sense-making processes for both the interviewer and participant, and as such may play an important role in coping and resilience. We therefore argue for ethically active research that critically engages with the concepts of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘sensitivity’, and underpinning assumptions, in context over time throughout the research process for current and future research with HCPs and other groups beyond pandemic situations. We thus aim to prepare researchers for managing these potential facets during the research process. We conclude with practical implications for managing emerging ethical tensions, methodological challenges and the wide-ranging possibilities and responsibilities for research with HCPs, urging researchers to consider the issues in advance.