Article Text

Download PDFPDF

187 Effectiveness of library instruction on medical students’ information literacy skills
  1. Hong-Nei Wong,
  2. Lily Ren
  1. Lane Medical Library, Stanford, USA


Objectives Information literacy skills are crucial for practicing evidence-based medicine (Kingsley and Kingsley 2009; Saranto and Hovenga 2004). To prepare medical students, the Lane Medical Library provides a 90-minute class for all first-year medical and physician assistant students. The learning goal is to teach health professionals to locate and identify the best available medical evidence efficiently and systematically, and how to effectively share information literacy skills with their patients to discern misinformation. The learning objectives include: 1. understanding PubMed features and literature collection compared to Google Scholar and point-of-care tools; 2. formulating advanced evidence search strategies 3. discussing elements of various critical appraisal tools 4. exploring means and tools to improve patients’ health literacy and combat health misinformation.

Method The course was conducted in a flipped classroom format and included examples related to underserved populations. We offered the training at the beginning of the first quarter. A pre-class survey was conducted to assess the literature search experience based on students’ educational backgrounds and familiarity with various literature sources. Before class, students were asked to provide a literature search strategy for a systematic review on ADHD in black communities. Students were divided into small groups to rewrite the PubMed search strategy after learning PubMed features and advanced literature search techniques. Students compared their pre-class and group PubMed search results with the search strategy used in the published systematic review on the same topic. Students also graded three pre-selected articles on their quality to demonstrate the critical appraisal process and identify red flags, like spinning. The end-of-semester examination included questions related to information literacy skills in order to assess knowledge retention.

Results In 2021, there were one hundred and nineteen students in this class. Twenty-two students graduated from postgraduate programs. Seventy-six students reported they were very familiar with searching the PubMed database. In a multiple-choice question, ninety-one students selected the correct combination of Boolean operators and parentheses in finding comparative studies. However, only forty-six students used Boolean operators when developing their own PubMed search strategies. Instead of combining keywords and Boolean operators, six students wrote a complete sentence as their PubMed search strategy. One hundred and five students selected the correct Boolean operators for the same multiple-choice question during the final examination. Fifty students incorporated advanced search techniques, such as Medical Subject Headings, to formulate a PubMed search strategy for a clinical question. However, two students still used almost complete sentences instead of appropriate keywords when searching PubMed. Students showed difficulties identifying papers using inappropriate methodologies or exaggerating results during class discussions.

Conclusions Advanced Information literacy skills are crucial for students to successfully navigate the exponentially increased volume of medical literature and provide the best care to patients. Even though students rated themselves as experienced PubMed searchers, our pre-class survey showed that most students were unfamiliar with most PubMed features and advanced literature searching techniques. This pre-class exercise helped students experience the challenges encountered by our patients without formal medical training in finding the right medical information. Most students improved their literature searching skills and were able to identify red flags for low-quality papers even after the first 90-minute session. By applying information literacy skills, students could locate and critically appraise medical literature efficiently and systematically. Offering this training at the beginning of the first quarter gives students the opportunity to develop critical skills and be able to apply them during clerkships and share this knowledge with patients to combat health misinformation.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.