Qualitative Research and Pain: Current Controversies and Future Directions

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A webinar exploring the present and future of qualitative pain research

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Much of what we know about the meaning and experience of pain has been facilitated through qualitative research. However, qualitative inquiry continues to be underrepresented in the pain literature relative to quantitative approaches. In this webinar co-guest editors Dr. Fiona Webster and Perri Tutelman present the Canadian Journal of Pain Special Issue on Qualitative Research and Pain. We will provide an overview of the contributions that qualitative methods can offer to pain research and will address three common controversies regarding qualitative research quality (e.g., sample size, generalizability, and saturation). Next, selected authors will present a sampling of studies published in the Special Issue that demonstrate novel theoretical and methodological advancements in the field. The presentations will describe a range of qualitative designs (e.g., phenomenology, qualitative description, arts-based approaches), methods of data collection (e.g., interviews, object elicitation, social media), and pain populations (e.g., immigrant women with chronic pain, critically ill patients, and individuals with heart disease).

Read the introduction to the Special Issue on Qualitative Research and Pain:

Perri R. Tutelman & Fiona Webster (2020). Qualitative Research and Pain: Current Controversies and Future Directions, Canadian Journal of Pain. DOI: 10.1080/24740527.2020.1809201


Helping People Talk About Pain: Elicitation Interviews with Critically Ill Adults

Dr. Craig Dale is an Assistant Professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, Scientist in the Tory Trauma Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (Toronto), and holds an appointment as a Scientist in the University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain (UTCSP). His research explores fundamental care for critically ill patients including pain management, hygiene, and communication. He employs qualitative and mixed method approaches in his research.

The Lived Experiences of Chronic Pain among Immigrant Indian-Canadian Women: A Phenomenological Analysis

Dr. Nida Mustafa is a recent PhD graduate from the Social and Behavioural Health Sciences program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She uses qualitative methods, particularly interviews and photovoice, to explore women's lived experiences of pain at the intersection of culture, gender and immigration. Nida is also a course instructor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society (UTSC), and is very passionate about the academic and professional development of her students.

Recognizing Pain as an Early Warning Symptom of Ischemic Cardiovascular Disease: A Qualitative Artistic Representation of the Journey.

Dr. Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy (Brock University) is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, in the Department of Nursing at Brock University. She is a Nationally Certified Expert in Cardiovascular Critical Care and holds the National Research Director for the Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses. Sheila is a Scientist at the Centre for Research Across the Life Span and the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Wellbeing in St. Catharines, Ontario. Her research program includes: a) patient-focused, clinical research in women’s and men’s cardiovascular health, b) education of patients, healthcare providers and trainees and c) extending reach to create awareness, and mobilize knowledge, to improve the promotion, prevention, treatment and understanding of the human experience of cardiovascular disease. Dr. O’Keefe-McCarthy’s evolving program contains three inter-related areas of focus: 1) to examine and describe cardiovascular disease (CVD) related pain and associated symptoms: [early cardiac prodromal symptoms and acute/chronic symptom presentations], 2) with use of digital health technology design, develop and evaluate interventions to screen for and/or manage pain and other symptoms, and 3) create meaningful knowledge mobilization through use of arts-based research and dissemination.

‘It's like she's talking about me’ – exploring the value of a qualitative research film about living with chronic pain​

Dr. Francine Toye studied Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge (1986-1990), and later qualified as a physiotherapist (1996). She is committed to improving the quality of healthcare through qualitative research, and in 2018 was invited to lead a team of experts and patients to develop a qualitative research resource for the International Association for the Study of Pain, Global Year of Excellence in Pain Education. Francine aims to make qualitative research accessible and useful across disciplines and runs ‘Made Simple’ qualitative research workshops for University of Oxford. She works closely with patient partners and integrates patients into every phase of research, including idea development, analysis, and dissemination. She has published a body of qualitative research and has expertise in qualitative research methodology, including meta-ethnography. Francine is committed to maximising the impact of qualitative research and has uses innovative arts-based approaches, such as film, to achieve this.

Joletta Belton is a storyteller, advocate, and educator. She makes sense of her pain through science and stories on her blog,, and is co-founder of the Endless Possibilities Initiative, a nonprofit organization with a mission of empowering people living with pain to live well. Both projects were born of her experiences living with chronic pain, which began with a missed step off a fire engine and a twinge in her hip. That missed step landed her in the chaos of ongoing, worsening pain, years of failed treatments, and a forced medical retirement from the firefighter paramedic career that had defined her. It also landed her on a path of healing, growth, self-discovery, and purpose. Joletta is now an advocate for advancing the integration of the lived experience into the study, research, and treatment of pain, which led to her position as co-chair of the Global Alliance of Pain Patient Advocates (GAPPA), a presidential task force for the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). She is also the first Patient and Public Partnerships Editor for the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy.

Editors and Hosts

Perri R. Tutelman (Clinical Psychology PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University) is a PhD Candidate in Clinical Psychology at Dalhousie University and the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research at the IWK Health Centre. Perri’s research is focused on understanding the pain experiences of children with cancer across the disease trajectory using qualitative and experimental pain methods. Her other research interests include the role of families in children’s pain, patient engagement in health research, and implementation science. Perri has received funding from numerous national and provincial organizations for her research including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program, the Killam Trusts, and the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute. Perri has published several qualitative studies that explore the lived experiences of patients, families, and healthcare providers in the areas of pain and serious illness. She actively mentors graduate students interested in qualitative methods and is thrilled to be co-guest editing the Special Issue on Qualitative Research and Pain for the Canadian Journal of Pain.

Dr. Fiona Webster is an Associate Professor in the Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University and has held a status cross-appointment in the Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, since 2010. She holds a PhD in Sociology in Equity Studies from the University of Toronto, where she trained in an approach known as institutional ethnography (IE). She is an Academic Fellow with the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research (CQ) and has designed and taught several graduate courses in qualitative methodology and conducted over 50 workshops on this topic to clinical teams. She has successfully led many CIHR and SSHRC funded interdisciplinary research teams with a particular emphasis on the social organization of care for patients with chronic pain using qualitative approaches. The focus of this work has increasingly been on mapping the intersections between social inequities and health. She has published over 80 peer reviewed articles in clinical journals and has held many awards for teaching and research, including a CIHR New Investigator Award (2014-2019). She has also published a recent book that uses IE to explore how a `best practice' is developed, translated, and taken up in medical practice across various sites. This work makes visible some of the assumptions and hidden priorities underlying the current emphasis on translating scientific knowledge in medicine into practice (Fiona Webster 2020. The social organization of best practice: an institutional ethnography of physicians’ work. Palgrave MacMillan).

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