Making sense of grounded theory in medical education

Authors

  • Tara J T Kennedy,

    1. Bloorview MacMillan Children's Centre, Wilson Centre for Research in Education, Faculty of Medicine, and Department of Pediatrics, University of Toronto, Canada
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  • Lorelei A Lingard

    1. Wilson Centre for Research in Education, Faculty of Medicine, and Department of Pediatrics, University of Toronto, Canada
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Tara J. T. Kennedy, Wilson Centre for Research in Education at the University Health Network, 200 Elizabeth Street, Eaton South 1–565, Toronto, ON M5G 2C4. Tel: 416 340 4800 ext. 6553; Fax: 416 340 3792;
E-mail: tara.kennedy@utoronto.ca

Abstract

Background  Grounded theory is a research methodology designed to develop, through collection and analysis of data that is primarily (but not exclusively) qualitative, a well-integrated set of concepts that provide a theoretical explanation of a social phenomenon.

Objective  This paper aims to provide an introduction to key features of grounded theory methodology within the context of medical education research.

Overview  In this paper we include a discussion of the origins of grounded theory, a description of key methodological processes, a comment on pitfalls encountered commonly in the application of grounded theory research, and a summary of the strengths of grounded theory methodology with illustrations from the medical education domain.

Discussion  The significant strengths of grounded theory that have resulted in its enduring prominence in qualitative research include its clearly articulated analytical process and its emphasis on the generation of pragmatic theory that is grounded in the data of experience. When applied properly and thoughtfully, grounded theory can address research questions of significant relevance to the domain of medical education.

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