Finding Strength in Vulnerability: Ethical Approaches when Conducting Research with Vulnerable Populations

Elizabeth Mollard, Holly Hatton-Bowers, Julie Tippens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Researchers who desire to make positive changes for vulnerable populations often conduct problem-focused studies. Although problem-focused research is important, when such studies are not carefully designed, their results can contribute to a deficit discourse. A deficit discourse is a narrative that describes the person through a myopic lens of negativity characterized only by illness, death, depression, failure, or the like. Deficit discourse negatively affects how health care providers and society interact with vulnerable people. This article discusses deficit discourse in health care and strengths-based research: an ethical approach to working with vulnerable individuals in research settings and a strategy to overcome deficit discourse. Strengths-based research approaches balance risks with countermeasures that include areas that are positive and amenable to growth or intervention. Strengths-based research can be conducted using qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods methodology. Strengths-based research should be culturally relevant and population-specific, often including the individuals of study throughout the process. By modifying the research approach, critical problems can be identified and addressed while also emphasizing positive ways to empower individuals and improve their lives. Additionally, these changes better the way researchers and health care providers view and care for people while also challenging deficit discourses in society at large.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)802-807
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Midwifery and Women's Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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