Enhancing the collective, protecting the personal: the valuable role of composite narratives in medical education research

Catherine Kennedy
Zoë McElhinney
Soort article
A Qualitative Space
Composite narrative,
Medical education,
Qualitative research methodology,
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Narrative research approaches provide the opportunity for constructing a detailed understanding of lived experiences relevant to medical education, in areas such as illness narratives, explorations of doctor-patient relationships, and the development of professional identities in students and educators. The benefits of the depth of data gathered in narrative research are, however, counterbalanced by possible weaknesses relating to a focus on individual cases and the risk of identification of participants where subjects are sensitive or unique. To address these concerns, researchers from a variety of social science disciplines, carrying out research employing a range of methodological approaches, have begun to use ‘composite narratives’ in which the commonalities in the experiences of research participants are combined to create joint narrative or narratives which illustrate participants’ shared experiences. Composite narratives have been used both as a component of the methodological approach and as a method of presenting the results of research in a variety of methodologies. This A Qualitative Space paper explores the role, strengths, and weaknesses of narrative research, before outlining the ways in which composite narrative has been defined within existing research. Distinctions between the various approaches to creating composite narratives are discussed, highlighting the differences in the types of data utilised, and the approaches taken to data analysis and presentation. A key distinction is identified between the use of composite narratives as part of an integrated methodology and as an approach to the presentation of data. Finally, issues relating to trustworthiness, reflexivity, and implications for researchers are considered.


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