New publication: Characterising and justifying sample size sufficiency in interview-based studies: systematic analysis of qualitative health research over a 15-year period

Sue Thorpe (School of Psychology) is co-author on a paper just published by the BMC Medical Research Methodolgy Journal.  You can read the abstract below or read the full paper.

Background: Choosing a suitable sample size in qualitative research is an area of conceptual debate and practical uncertainty. That sample size principles, guidelines and tools have been developed to enable researchers to set, and justify the acceptability of, their sample size is an indication that the issue constitutes an important marker of the quality of qualitative research. Nevertheless, research shows that sample size sufficiency reporting is often poor, if not absent, across a range of disciplinary fields.

Methods: A systematic analysis of single-interview-per-participant designs within three health-related journals from the disciplines of psychology, sociology and medicine, over a 15-year period, was conducted to examine whether and how sample sizes were justified and how sample size was characterised and discussed by authors. Data pertinent to sample size were extracted and analysed using qualitative and quantitative analytic techniques.

Results: Our findings demonstrate that provision of sample size justifications in qualitative health research is limited; is not contingent on the number of interviews; and relates to the journal of publication. Defence of sample size was most frequently supported across all three journals with reference to the principle of saturation and to pragmatic considerations. Qualitative sample sizes were predominantly – and often without justification – characterised as insufficient (i.e., ‘small’) and discussed in the context of study limitations. Sample size insufficiency was seen to threaten the validity and generalizability of studies’ results, with the latter being frequently conceived in nomothetic terms.

Conclusions: We recommend, firstly, that qualitative health researchers be more transparent about evaluations of their sample size sufficiency, situating these within broader and more encompassing assessments of data adequacy. Secondly, we invite researchers critically to consider how saturation parameters found in prior methodological studies and sample size community norms might best inform, and apply to, their own project and encourage that data adequacy is best appraised with reference to features that are intrinsic to the study at hand. Finally, those reviewing papers have a vital role in supporting and encouraging transparent study-specific reporting.

Faculty Publications

Congratulations to everyone in the Faculty who has published their research this quarter.

Hugh Alberti, Emmet Carlin and Michael Harrison. What factors influence intention towards a career in general practice? Br J Gen Pract  2017;  67  (659)


Burford B, Medford W, Carter M, Tiffin P, Vance G, Corbett S, Shapiro E, Guilding C, Illing J,  The Health Education Quality Framework and National Education and Training Survey: Evidence, Evaluation and Pilot. Final report for Health Education England

Backhouse M, Fitzpatrick M, Hutchinson J, Thandi CS, Keenan ID,  Improvements in anatomy knowledge when utilizing a novel cyclical “Observe-Reflect-Draw-Edit-Repeat” learning process. Anatomical Sciences Education.

Delgaty L, Fisher J, Thompson R,  The ‘Dark Side’ of Technology in Medical Education. MedEdPublish.

Fisher JM, Tullo E, Chan K, Teodorczuk A,  Twelve tips for teaching about patients with cognitive impairment. Medical Teacher.

Iad Gharib, Sarah Rolland, Heidi Bateman, Janice Ellis. Just One Thing: a novel patient feedback model. British Dental Journal 222, 797 – 802 (2017).

Jennings BA, Keenan ID,  Life Sciences in an Integrated Curriculum: Starting the Conversation. MedEdPublish.

Hamde Nazar, Ilona Obara, Alastair Paterson, Zachariah Nazar, Jane Portlock, Andrew Husband. A Consensus Approach to Investigate Undergraduate Pharmacy Students’ Experience of Interprofessional Education 2017, 81(2).

Sawdon MA, Whitehouse K, Finn GM, McLachlan JC, Murray D,  Relating professionalism and conscientiousness to develop an objective, scalar, proxy measure of professionalism in anaesthetic trainees. BMC Medical Education.

Tiffin P, Paton LW, Mwandigha LM, McLachlan JC, Illing J,  Predicting fitness to practise events in international medical graduates who registered as UK doctors via the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) system: a national cohort study BMC Medicine. BMC Medicine.

Walker S, Gibbins J, Paes P, Adams A, Chandratilake M, Gishen F, Lodge P, Wee B, Barclay S,  Palliative care education for medical students: Differences in course evolution, organisation, evaluation and funding: A survey of all UK medical schools. Palliative Medicine.

Challenging the basic sciences ‘learn and forget’ culture

Luisa WakelingA short article documenting the Context Café method that Louisa uses to help first year dental students in their first week integrate and put into the context of Dentistry the courses they will receive over their first year has been published in the Medical Education Journal.

L Wakeling, N Jakubovics, S McHanwell, J Stewart. Medical education 50 (5), 578-57. Challenging the basic sciences ‘learn and forget’ culture

Promoting recognition: a personal perspective

Heidi BatemanBateman, H. (2016), Promoting recognition: a personal perspective. The Clinical Teacher. doi: 10.1111/tct.12488

This article outlines a personal view of teaching recognition for clinical teachers.

I have discussed why I feel clinical teachers should consider applying for recognition of their teaching role, the processes involved and the benefits to be gained both by participating in the process and the rewards of recognition.

Miss Heidi Bateman, School of Dental Sciences


Developing Assessment: involving the sessional clinical teacher

Bateman, H., Thomason, J.M., McCracken, G., Ellis, J. (2016) Developing assessment: involving the sessional clinical teacher. The British Dental Journal, 220, 129-132. doi: 10.1038/sj.bdj.2016.95

This article describes an approach the School of Dental Sciences have implemented to address the challenges associated with developing assessments for the undergraduate BDS curriculum.

Developing authentic, valid and reliable assessments is resource intensive and essential, as is developing assessments at an appropriate standard for the professional examination to which they contribute.

We believe aspects of assessment development could be enhanced by involvement of sessional clinical teachers. These teachers have a good appreciation of the required standard of achievement, together with significant experience of working with both undergraduate students and in many cases recently qualified dentists.

Our approach has been to identify opportunities by active timetable management where contributions could be made by this group of clinical teachers to assessment writing, validation standard-setting and utilisation of assessments. We have recognised that this process must be facilitated by appropriate support and training as well as an investment in planning.

Miss Heidi Bateman, School of Dental Sciences

Does a selection interview predict year 1 performance in dental school?

JANICE ELLIS J-PEGruth_valentine

  1. McAndrew (Cardiff University), J.Ellis, and R.A. Valentine have had a paper published in the European Journal of Dental Education (ISSN 1396-5883).

Read on for the abstract or contact either or directly for further details.


It is important for dental schools to select students who will complete their degree and progress on to become the dentists of the future. The process should be transparent, fair and ethical and utilise selection tools that select appropriate students. The interview is an integral part of UK dental schools student selection procedures.

Objective: This study was undertaken in order to determine whether different interview methods (Cardiff with a multiple mini interview and Newcastle with a more traditional interview process) along with other components used in selection predicted academic performance in students.

Methods: The admissions selection data for two dental schools (Cardiff and Newcastle) were collected and analysed alongside student performance in academic examinations in Year 1 of the respective schools. Correlation statistics were used to determine whether selection tools had any relevance to academic performance once students were admitted to their respective Universities.

Results: Data was available for a total of 177 students (77 Cardiff and 100 Newcastle). Examination performance did not correlate with admission interview scores at either school; however UKCAT score was linked to poor academic performance.

Discussion: Although interview methodology does not appear to correlate with academic performance it remains an integral and very necessary part of the admissions process. Ultimately schools need to be comfortable with their admissions procedures in attracting and selecting the calibre of students they desire.


Two articles in the Journal of Anatomy

Smith CF, Finn GM, Stewart J and McHanwell S. (2016).  Anatomical Society core regional anatomy syllabus for undergraduate medicine: the Delphi process. Journal of Anatomy 228, 2-14.  doi:  10.1111/joa. 12402

Smith CF, Finn GM, Stewart J, Atkinson MA, Davies DC, Dyball R, Morris J, Ockleford C, Parkin I, Standring S, Whiten S, Wilton J and McHanwell S. (2016). The Anatomical Society core regional anatomy syllabus for undergraduate medicine. Journal of Anatomy 228, 15-23.  doi:  10.1111/joa. 12405.

These two articles describe the results of a multi-centre project the aim of which was to undertake a revision of the Anatomical Society syllabus for the teaching of gross anatomy in undergraduate medicine.

In 2007 the Education Committee of Anatomical Society (McHanwell et al, European Journal of Anatomy, 11, 3-18) published a core syllabus in anatomy for undergraduate medicine.  This syllabus was subsequently included as a reference document in Tomorrow’s Doctors 2009.  After 10 years it was felt that this syllabus would benefit from a robust analysis and review using a more rigorous research process.  The method employed was a Delphi process using an expert panel of 51 participants.  The results of that study are published as two papers, the first describing the methodology and results and the second detailing the revised syllabus.

It is hoped that this revised syllabus will be helpful as a tool to develop a coherent approach to gross anatomy teaching that will support student learning.


New publication: Patient non-attendance: utilising clinical time

Heidi BatemanBateman, H., Thomason, J. M. and Ellis, J. (2015), Patient non-attendance: utilising clinical time. The Clinical Teacher. doi: 10.1111/tct.12405.

This article outlines one of the innovations the School of Dental Sciences have implemented in response to patient non-attendance during undergraduate student clinics. Although we work hard to minimise patient non-attendance, the reality is that on occasion it does happen, so having a range of alternate learning opportunities is important.

Close contact teaching and learning activities (CCTLS) are short, skills-based tasks which students can undertake in the clinical environment utilising the resources usually associated with that session. A selection of the range of activities we have is described, together with general principles underlying their development; this hopefully allows others to develop similar activities tailored to the demands of their individual programmes.

The CCTLs we have are directly observed, formative activities with structured assessment criteria. They focus on tasks which develop understanding and skills and can also reinforce protocols, so they are potentially most appropriate for early-stage clinical students. We believe these activities can contribute to maximising the potential of clinical attachments.

Miss Heidi Bateman, School of Dental Sciences