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Undertake ethically sound medical education research

Pugsley, Lesley 2016. Undertake ethically sound medical education research. Education for Primary Care 27 (2) , pp. 148-150. 10.1080/14739879.2016.1149955

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There are key ethical principles that need to be considered before the start of any research study. The research should be designed, reviewed and conducted in ways that ensure the integrity and the quality of the work. Researchers and research participants need to be fully informed as to the purpose, methods and possible uses of the study. Participation needs to be voluntary with a right to withdraw at any stage clearly stated. Anonymity and confidentiality must be respected and maintained, within the usual caveats of potential for danger or harm. Ethical approval must be obtained from an appropriate professional body or group. This is an essential step which should not be overlooked as it affords objective scrutiny to each piece of research and also publication will not proceed without confirmation of its having being achieved. The ethical principles inherent in conducting clinical trials or experimental procedures will be very familiar to the readers of this journal. However it is also important to recognise the particular ethical dimensions that apply when engaging with medical education research. There is a need to be aware of, and acknowledge, the particular challenges and responsibilities that come with researching in social settings. These relate to the research participants, the subject matter under study and the methods that are used to address research questions. Concern about the ethical dimensions of social inquiry have led many of the professional associations to develop ethical guidelines and regulatory codes of practice (see e.g. the British Education Research Association BERA 2015) which offer a good framework for conducting ethically sound educational studies. It is essential for educational researchers to consider, in advance, the potential ethical issues that might be experienced in their study and, where possible, to develop strategies to address them in advance of the research. It might at this point be helpful to reflect on the question of whether educational research can ever be value free; or do biases, political, cultural and historical impact on such research and therefore on researcher neutrality? Whatever our stance, ethical approval will need to be obtained from the appropriate gatekeepers and organisations, prior to the commencement of any research study. Medical schools and universities each have their own arrangements for ethical review of staff and student projects; whilst local research ethics committees will review proposals involving the use of patients or NHS staff. Journal publication will always be conditional on these permissions having been obtained, and so it is essential to understand how and where to seek and obtain these approvals before undertaking any research. Often, the local, small scale medical education research projects undertaken, centre on the educator and their students’ educational practices, attitudes and perceptions. Such a focus immediately highlights the potential for power differentials in the process and hence the ethical dilemmas which might occur. There are a number of key principles which should be followed to ensure the veracity of any study. Table 1 serves to highlight the ethical issues that need to be considered in respect of the research participants and the researcher.[1 Kumar, R. Research methodology. 2nd ed. Sage: London; 2005. [Google Scholar]] All research projects should be designed, reviewed and conducted to ensure that there is integrity, quality and transparency in the whole process. Research involves a set of responsibilities, to the participants, the sponsors and the wider educational research community. Poorly conducted or unethical research can serve to contaminate the field, making future access negotiations and so further investigations by other researchers more problematic. Some of the key ethical concerns that need to be considered centre around the ways in which participants are recruited and treated during and after the research process. The ethical dimensions of educational research can be complex and whilst it is possible to develop general guidelines and ethical parameters, these need to be carefully scrutinised for each specific situation. This article discusses key ethical elements that need to be considered and addressed in any educational research study.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education
Publisher: Radcliffe Publishing
ISSN: 1473-9879
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2019 15:22

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