A pragmatic approach to resolving tensions between the educational validity of master's projects in healthcare settings and ethical and governance requirements

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Abstract

The concurrent realities of growing numbers of master's students in health and social care subjects, and developments in research governance processes in the public sector are discussed as a context for master's level dissertation projects.

Master's level continuing professional development of health and social care practitioners necessarily includes the development of skills in diverse approaches to research and systematic enquiry. The master's dissertation project gives an opportunity for extended applied learning and skills development in relation to this. Recent developments in National Health Service research governance processes, while essential to the protection of patients, have created difficulties for students in gaining the necessary governance and ethical approvals to carry out projects involving the collection of primary data within the timeframe of a master's dissertation project. The implications of this on opportunities for learning and development at this level are explored. The value of different types of master's dissertation projects and the appropriateness, respectively, of different types of governance processes are discussed. Approaches developed by one higher education/National Health Service partnership, to ensuring that the ethical approval of student project proposals is managed as expediently and appropriately as possible, are shared and discussed. These include the development of a toolkit to assist students and others in differentiating between, for example, research, audit and service evaluation activities. They also include consideration of appropriate governance frameworks and ethical review in relation to each of these potential project types.

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