Prioritizing qualitative research in surgery: A synthesis and analysis of publication trends

Document Type



General Surgery


Background: Over the past 2 decades, researchers have recognized the value of qualitative research. Little has been done to characterize its application to surgery. We describe characteristics and overall prevalence of qualitative surgical research.
Methods: We searched PubMed and CINAHL using "surgery" and 7 qualitative methodology terms. Four researchers extracted information; a fifth researcher reviewed 10% of abstracts for inter-rater reliability.
Results: A total of 3,112 articles were reviewed. Removing duplicates, 28% were relevant (N = 878; κ = 0.70). Common qualitative methodologies included phenomenology (34.3%) and grounded theory (30.2%). Interviews were the most common data collection method (81.9%) of patients (64%) within surgical oncology (15.4%). Postdischarge was the most commonly studied topic (30.8%). Overall, 41% of studies were published in nursing journals, while 8% were published in surgical journals. More than half of studies were published since 2011.
Conclusion: Results suggest qualitative surgical research is gaining popularity. Most is published in nonsurgical journals, however, utilizing only 2 methodologies (phenomenology, grounded theory). The surgical journals that have published qualitative research had study topics restricted to a handful of surgical specialties. Additional surgical qualitative research should take advantage of a greater variety of approaches to provide insight into rare phenomena and social context.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University

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