Jenny Hislop, Senior Researcher, and I have recently started a study on patient experiences of Atrial Fibrillation (AF). I must admit that, until a few weeks ago, my knowledge of AF was pretty limited (something which my interviewee says is all too widespread). A steep learning curve ensued, including finding out about symptoms, triggers, treatments and associated risks from the condition. In short, AF is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. The day before yesterday, Jenny conducted our first interview on patient experiences of AF. I observed, this being the first interview using our topic guide (relevant questions to ask the participant if they do not mention these during their narrative). Yesterday it was my turn. I have conducted a few interviews before, but only ever audio recorded. Now I had to set up the camera equipment, check the lighting, sound, and the position of the participant. I had practised at home so that I felt happy setting up the tripod, adjusting the camera and remembering to attach the microphone. Yet with the participant there I was a little flustered, so keen was I to get everything right. Jenny was observing from the back of the room, which in one sense was very reassuring (I had asked her to step in if the interview seemed to be turning into a total disaster), but on the other, I was aware that a very experienced researcher was listening intently to my first attempt at such an interview!
I needn’t have worried, as the gentleman that I was interviewing was friendly, eloquent and keen to tell me his experiences of AF. I first asked David* to tell me his story of discovering he had AF and deciding what to do about it. In inviting David to tell me his story, he was able to speak freely and include issues which were important to him. I was aware that I should not interrupt David whilst he was delivering his narrative, but nodded regularly and maintained eye contact to reassure him that I was listening and interested in his story. I did make a number of notes on my topic guide with questions and points I wanted to raise with David. On reflection, these would have been better written on a separate piece of paper, as the notes became numerous, cramped and chaotic, and therefore difficult to read! I was also aware of thinking I should not look too frequently at the topic guide, so as not to lead David to think I was not engaged with his story. I think this is unique to a one-to-one situation, and not really comparable with something like taking notes during a lecture. I appreciate that this skill will come with practice, but ‘interview multi-tasking’ is a technique I will need to work on. I may have maintained eye contact to the detriment of focusing on the topic guide. At the end of the interview, Jenny asked a couple of questions that I had missed out.
Back at the office, I uploaded the video and back-up audio recording. Not having had a microphone on myself, I realise that when I asked David questions I was a little quiet on the recording, so will need to project my voice more next time. The interview lasted nearly two hours, and I found it quite tiring – I think due to a combination of anticipation (both nerves and excitement), plus listening intently to what David was saying, and asking appropriate questions accordingly. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed the interview experience. I feel so privileged that David was prepared to share his experiences of AF with me – including details on how it feels to have AF, how it has affected his life, how he negotiated decisions about treatment, and what he thinks should be done about raising the profile of AF. It is crucial to remember that people volunteer to be involved in our research, and are under no obligation to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Therefore I feel that a sensitive yet inquisitive approach is required when conducting such interviews. Time now for some multi-tasking practice before my next interview…
• David is not the participant’s real name.