Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Developing Health Information Literacy: A Needs Analysis from the Perspective of Preprofessional Health Students*

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Developing Health Information Literacy: A Needs Analysis from the Perspective of Preprofessional Health Students*

Article excerpt

Objective: The research identified the skills, if any, that health preprofessional students wished to develop after receiving feedback on skill gaps as well as any strategies they intended to use to address these gaps.

Methods: A qualitative approach was used to elicit students' reflections on building health information literacy skills. First, the students took the Research Readiness Self-Assessment instrument, which measured their health information literacy, and then they received individually tailored feedback about their scores and skill gaps. Second, students completed a post-assessment survey asking how they intended to close identified gaps in their skills on these. Three trained coders analyzed qualitative comments by 181 students and grouped them into themes relating to ''what skills to improve'' and ''how to improve them.''

Results: Students intended to develop library skills (64% of respondents), Internet skills (63%), and information evaluation skills (63%). Most students reported that they would use library staffmembers' assistance (55%), but even more respondents (82%) planned to learn the skills by practicing on their own. Getting help from librarians was a much more popular learning strategy than getting assistance from peers (20%) or professors (17%).

Conclusions: The study highlighted the importance of providing health preprofessional students with resources to improve skills on their own, remote access to library staffmembers, and instruction on the complexity of building health literacy skills, while also building relationships among students, librarians, and faculty.


Many students lack important competencies essential for finding and evaluating health information. However, their self-appraisals indicate that 84% of undergraduate students think favorably of their own information skills and rate them as good, very good, or excellent [1]. This study builds on the authors' previous research using an online health information assessment tool, Research Readiness Self-Assessment (RRSA), health version, that contains objective measures of information literacy skills related to finding and evaluating academic health information from library databases and the open access Internet [1]. Upon completing the RRSA, students are given feedback about their health information competencies intended to raise their awareness of their skill gaps and competency building needs. The authors were interested in learning how students translate this feedback into action to improve their health information literacy. The research questions were: From a student perspective, what is the best way to close a skill gap in health information competencies? Specifically, what skills would they like to develop? To whom would they reach out for assistance?


The growing number of publications on health information literacy is an indicator that this topic is of interest to professionals in a variety of health fields. A search for ''health AND information AND literacy'' in PubMed produces 364 documents published in 2000-2005, 865 documents published in 2005-2010, and 340 documents published in 2011 and the first 4 months of 2012. Students' competencies in finding and evaluating health information are often assessed using course assignments [2-5] or self-reports [6-10] and rarely using standardized tests [1]. Researchers who have measured both self-reports and actual skills have found that the 2 variables were only weakly related [1]. After controlling for education (undergraduate credit hours earned), researchers have found that self-reports of health information skills failed to explain a significant amount of variance in the score obtained from an objective skill assessment (beta50.08, P50.23). This finding indicates that selfreports may not be accurate predictors of students' actual health information competencies. Yet, both measures are important because they can be used to motivate students to build their competencies by giving feedback on perceived and actual skills. …

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