Researching lived experience in health professional education

Rola Ajjawi*, Margaret Bearman, Victoria Luong, Bridget C. O'Brien, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Qualitative approaches have flourished in medical education research. Many research articles use the term ‘lived experience’ to describe the purpose of their study, yet we have noticed contradictory uses and misrepresentations of this term. In this conceptual paper, we consider three sources of these contradictions and misrepresentations: (1) the conflation of perspectives with experiences; (2) the conflation of experience with lived experience; and (3) the conflation of researching lived experience with phenomenology. We offer suggestions to facilitate more precise use of terminology. Argument: Our starting point is to free researchers from unnecessary shackles: Not every problem in medical education should be studied through experience, nor should every study of experience be phenomenological. Data based on participants' perceptions, beliefs, opinions and thoughts, while based on reflections of experiences, are not in and of themselves accounts of experience. Lived experiences are situated, primal and pre-reflective; perspectives are more abstract. Lived experience—as opposed to experiences as such—deeply attune to bodies, relationality, space and time. There is also a difference between experiences as lived, how a person makes sense of these and what the researcher interprets and represents. Phenomenology is a meaningful approach to the study of lived experience, but other approaches, such as narrative inquiry and self-study, can also offer useful avenues for undertaking this type of research. Discussion: We aim to broaden researchers' scope with this paper and equip researchers with the information they need to be clear about the meaning and use of the terms experience and lived experience. We also hope to open new methodological possibilities for researching experiences as lived and, through highlighting tensions, to prompt researchers of lived experience to strive for ontological closeness and resonance.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


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