Recruiting healthcare professionals for focus groups: my challenges

22 Apr

OK, so having reflected on my challenges of recruiting members of the public, I shall now share my experiences of recruiting healthcare professionals. Similar to my public focus groups, this was another fairly stressful and frustrating process at the beginning but for different reasons. I used the same two geographical areas as I did for my public focus groups to afford the opportunities to make comparisons. The West of Scotland who had experienced an outbreak was my most challenging area for two reasons. The first major one was that despite the outbreak occurring a number of years ago, the aftermath was still very much apparent. The public inquiry was still on-going and emotions were still very raw. I knew from a moral perspective if nothing else that I had to be careful. For that reason, I did not recruit from a particular healthcare setting. This therefore presented me with challenges around getting enough participants from surrounding areas. The second challenge was that from a clinical and academic perspective I was a stranger in this area. I had worked in the East as an infection prevention practitioner for many years so I was fairly well known there.

Making contact

To identify potential healthcare settings, I simply used the internet. My sample needed to be from a particular area therefore I was limited in who I could approach. Having established potential healthcare settings, I contacted each manager by email. These consisted of two hospitals, 3 GP practices/health centres and 4 care homes. I provided the manager with detailed written information about the study and asked for permission to approach staff and invite them to take part. From this initial contact, two hospitals and one care home agreed to take part. All others responded and declined. It would have been interesting to know why they declined, but ethically I was not able to ask and no-one provided a reason. Of the healthcare settings I contacted in the East, everyone agreed to my request (4 hospitals). I suspect this was because I was known to them (and I think they liked me!).


My initial plan was to then contact staff myself through a physical visit, explain the purpose of the study, leave a participant information leaflet with them then wait for them to contact me if they were interested in taking part. Reflecting on my experience with the public in my previous post in terms of waiting for participants to come to me, this made me very nervous! However, all managers suggested that they recruit participants for me. Although there is a lot of literature about the difficulties with using gatekeepers, if I am honest I was just relieved at not having to do this myself! Although some may argue this can result in sampling bias, as the aim of my study was to explore perceptions and experiences rather than locating a ‘truth’, this sampling strategy was acceptable. All that was left for me to do was to agree with each manager a date and time for the focus group to be conducted. They were extremely helpful as they all allowed for the focus groups to be conducted in work time and in the work place which took a lot of pressure off me. Additionally, I was able to conduct the ones in the West within a week so I just took the motorhome down and stayed there for the week!

This whole process was much more time consuming than I had anticipated. It took about 6 weeks before I was able to conduct my first focus group. By the end, I conducted 7 focus groups (3 in the West and 4 in the East). I had hoped for 4 in the West, but due to all other areas declining, this was not possible. However, the data generated was adequate for this part of my study.

So lessons learned for me during this phase:

  • knowing your potential participants makes life much easier (especially if they like you!)
  • using managers as gatekeepers helps hugely (but be aware of potential limitations)
  • my initial contact with the gatekeepers was extremely important – I needed to ensure I ‘sold’ my research to them and for them to see the importance of it. Although it took longer than anticipated, I wasn’t pushy, I didn’t bombard them with numerous emails or give them deadlines as I didn’t want to alienate them from the outset
  • this is an important process which can’t be rushed
  • breathe a big sigh of relief when finished!

I hope this helps anyone who is about to do something similar. I know that I have learned so much from reading other people’s blogs so please do comment here about your experiences with recruiting professionals so that others can benefit from it.


3 Responses to “Recruiting healthcare professionals for focus groups: my challenges”

  1. Salma Patel (@salma_patel) May 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Hi Emma!

    Thank you so much for this post too.

    “Although some may argue this can result in sampling bias, as the aim of my study was to explore perceptions and experiences rather than locating a ‘truth’, this sampling strategy was acceptable.”

    I like how you’ve defended that, and I’ll now add this to my possible justification list that will be required for the PhD Viva 😉

    • Emma Burnett May 16, 2012 at 8:26 am #

      Hi Salma
      Having just attended a 2 day intense qualitative analysis course with Liz Spencer, I will now add to this by saying the main goal of such data collection methods is to gain a range of diverse views. Each particpant were individuals with different views and experiences despite their demographic characterisits. It didn’t matter that I had more females than males or more people at a certain age then others because I am not going generalise to the rest of the population. I am gaining a range of views which correspond to high order conceptual meanings. Hope this helps

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