Background Over the past 2 decades, researchers have recognized the value of qualitative research. Little has been done to characterize its application to surgery. We describe characteristics and overall prevalence of qualitative surgical research. Methods We searched PubMed and CINAHL using “surgery” and 7 qualitative methodology terms. Four researchers extracted information; a fifth researcher reviewed 10% of abstracts for inter-rater reliability. Results A total of 3,112 articles were reviewed. Removing duplicates, 28% were relevant (N = 878; κ = 0.70). Common qualitative methodologies included phenomenology (34.3%) and grounded theory (30.2%). Interviews were the most common data collection method (81.9%) of patients (64%) within surgical oncology (15.4%). Postdischarge was the most commonly studied topic (30.8%). Overall, 41% of studies were published in nursing journals, while 8% were published in surgical journals. More than half of studies were published since 2011. Conclusion Results suggest qualitative surgical research is gaining popularity. Most is published in nonsurgical journals, however, utilizing only 2 methodologies (phenomenology, grounded theory). The surgical journals that have published qualitative research had study topics restricted to a handful of surgical specialties. Additional surgical qualitative research should take advantage of a greater variety of approaches to provide insight into rare phenomena and social context.
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