Issues Surrounding the Administration of a Credit Course for Medical Students: Survey of US Academic Health Sciences Librarians*

Article excerpt

Objectives: For librarians developing a credit course for medical students, the process often involves trial and error. This project identified issues surrounding the administration of a credit course, so that librarians nationally can rely more upon shared knowledge of common practices and less upon trial and error.

Methods: A questionnaire was sent to the education services librarian at each medical school listed in the 2000 AAMC Data Book. A second questionnaire was sent to those librarians who did not return the first one.

Results: Of the 125 librarians surveyed, 82 returned the questionnaire. Of those 82, only 11 offered a credit course for medical students, though 19 more were in the process of developing one. Data were gathered on the following aspects of course administration: credit course offerings, course listing, information learned to administer the course, costs associated with the course, relationships with other departments on campus, preparation for teaching and grading, and evaluation of the course.

Conclusions: Because of small number of respondents offering a credit course and institutional variations, making generalizations about issues surrounding the administration of a credit course is difficult. The article closes with a list of recommendations for librarians planning to develop a course.


The emphasis on the need for medical professionals to maintain professional competence through lifelong learning has provided opportunities for health sciences librarians to work with students and faculty in new ways. While information management education (IME) has long been an important component of information services in academic health sciences libraries, its role has been highlighted by institutional information management exit objectives and suggested by a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC's) Medical School Objectives Project [1]. Existing IME programs include skills such as literature searching, cited reference searching, use of presentation and bibliographic management software, and use of evidence-based practice; one group of the AAMC's objectives, "Role of Life-Long Learner," fits closely with these existing programs. For example, one objective includes demonstrating knowledge of information sources such as MEDLINE, reference sources, textbooks, and medical Internet sites to support lifelong learning. Another addressed online search techniques such as using controlled vocabulary and Boolean operators when searching online resources. Although it has been left up to each medical school to determine whether or not these objectives would be adopted and to what extent they were adopted, librarians have been able to use this document to their advantage, using relevant objectives when refining existing IME programs and when developing new ones.

Information management education for medical students takes a variety of forms, often depending upon the political climate of the institution. Traditional forms of IME take place in brief, often single, sessions as a part of orientation or a course such as medical decision making, problem-based learning, or evidencebased practice. It may also take place outside of existing courses, as with training sessions that are open to the campus. These types of sessions assume that students can quickly absorb knowledge about information sources and the skills needed to use these sources effectively, with little or no need for follow-up. These "one-shot" sessions, however, are not effective for all students. One way to improve IME and to cover more of the AAMC's informatics objectives in more depth is by offering a credit course, where students and librarians can meet over an extended period (such as a semester or block). The primary benefit offered by credit courses is the "time available for instruction. [They allow] time for a structured and comprehensive approach to learning. Students have time to develop search strategies, to explore alternative approaches, and to practice information-seeking behavior under controlled circumstances" [2]. …