Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Is Literature Search Training for Medical Students and Residents Effective? a Literature Review

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Is Literature Search Training for Medical Students and Residents Effective? a Literature Review

Article excerpt

Objectives: This literature review examines the effectiveness of literature searching skills instruction for medical students or residents, as determined in studies that either measure learning before and after an intervention or compare test and control groups. The review reports on the instruments used to measure learning and on their reliability and validity, where available. Finally, a summary of learning outcomes is presented.

Methods: Fifteen studies published between 1998 and 2011 were identified for inclusion in the review. The selected studies all include a description of the intervention, a summary of the test used to measure learning, and the results of the measurement.

Results: Instruction generally resulted in improvement in clinical question writing, search strategy construction, article selection, and resource usage.

Conclusion: Although the findings of most of the studies indicate that the current instructional methods are effective, the study designs are generally weak, there is little evidence that learning persists over time, and few validated methods of skill measurement have been developed.


Librarians have been teaching users how to search online medical literature databases for almost twenty years. In the early years, classes were usually standalone sessions on how to access resources and conduct database searches. More recently, literature searching skills have been integrated into the curriculum in undergraduate and graduate medical education, often as part of learning about the practice of evidence-based medicine (EBM). Lessons on literature searching are taught using a variety of pedagogical methods including lectures, hands-on workshops, and online tutorials [1].

As medical education focuses more on self-directed and lifelong learning [2] and as governing associations and accrediting bodies are adding information literacy and retrieval competencies to their objectives [3-5], the need to measure the success of literature search skills training becomes critical. This literature review will focus on articles that attempt to answer the question ''how effective is the training we are offering?''


This review summarizes current literature measuring the impact of literature searching skills training in medical education. Relevant literature was identified by searching PubMed for articles on training medical students and residents to search the literature. The initial search strategy used was:

(''evidence-based medicine''[MeSH Terms] AND ''education, medical''[MeSH Terms] AND (medline[MeSH Terms] OR medline[Title/Abstract] OR fresno test))

Additional articles were retrieved by searching for related citations and reviewing the reference lists of relevant articles. The studies selected for inclusion in the review all described (1) literature searching skills instruction provided to medical students or residents, (2) an objective measurement of the impact of the intervention, and (3) the statistical significance of the measured outcomes. Studies reporting self-rated skills or knowledge and those measuring only knowledge without skills were excluded.

A total of fifteen studies published between 1998 and 2011 are included in the review (Table 1). Twelve of the studies used a cohort design with pre- and posttesting, seven of the studies included a control or comparison group (three of the control groups were randomized), and five studies measured searching skill retention over time.


Methods of instruction

Interventions represented in the studies included short online searching tutorials, in-person small group hands-on workshops, multi-week courses, and year-long curriculum-integrated instruction. Five of the studies featured stand-alone, hands-on MEDLINE searching or EBM workshop interventions taught by librarians or in one case by physicians. Ten studies described intensive, interactive instructional sessions offered over multiple weeks designed to impart the knowledge and skills required to practice EBM. …

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