Why Would I Want to Search That Way?

One of the things that has been taking large chunks of my calendar the last couple of weeks are the M2 PubMed classes.  The second year medical students are split up into groups of about 15 and we get 90 minutes to talk them through Advanced PubMed Searching.  Because it’s only 90 minutes and many of them haven’t been into the library in a while, I’m using Iris’ Subversive handout with ALL of the library contact information on one side.  Text, call, email, we’re here to help. Free research help. REALLY!!

I’ve taught two of the three sessions that I’ll get to teach this year and I walked out of my second session with frustration: I’d just spent an hour teaching them about limits, advanced search, MeSH terms but when we got to the assignment part (in class, just a quick “pair up and answer this question then tell me how you did it”) ALL of them did a keyword search, called it good enough, and stopped looking. When I asked them to explain how they searched I got “oh, we just typed things in the search bar….”   So…they were all just humoring me for the last hour when you looked up MeSH terms and experiemented with limits?

Does a full text keyword search work? Well, it usually gets a result or two (or 2000). But they may not be the best results and somehow I’d like to know that future doctors are concerned about getting best results, not just ones that pop up.  So I’m looking over what I taught, how I presented it, and trying to tweak it for my next session so perhaps it sticks a little better.

I think on Thursday I’m also going to make the following change when I ask them to pair up: “I know you’re all confident keyword searchers but for this, I’d like you to look up the MeSH Terms and apply limits or try Clinical Queries and tell us how you used each of those things to improve your search.”

Also on Thursday I’m in a different classroom, so I won’t have to turn the light off for them to see the screen.  Post lunch sitting in a dark classroom just makes things that much more challenging.


  1. Comment by Elizabeth Kettell:

    I suspect you, and I, and many other medical librarians share the same concerns/frustrations. I find the majority of my students to be very rushed when they are searching. Even though I explain how a search strategy will save them time, they don’t seem to want to take the time to do this. I ask myself often, are we expecting them to learn to be librarians, or are they here to learn to be doctors and dentists?

  2. Comment by Abigail:

    Yeah, to paraphrase Roy Tennant I think “librarians like searching, user like finding.” –it came up again in a meeting that I was in today and I get that at times “an” answer is sufficient. It troubles me that “an” answer is considered good enough when we’re talking about medicine. I’d like to know my doctor didn’t just stop at the first answer that came up.

    Worse–too many of them won’t have a librarian to go to once they’ve left us, with the elimination of so many hospital librarians.

    But working towards helping them find things faster and get better patient results is always a goal… just a far off one 🙂