PURPOSE. While educators agree that medical students should learn to use MEDLINE for clinical application, there is a lack of consensus on an optimal level of exposure to this resource during training that will result in sustained usage. This study sought to identify the level of search experience (1) to increase the odds that the student searcher will continue to search MEDLINE in the absence of search assignments, and (2) to make an appreciable difference in the odds of retrieving items of relevance from the MEDLINE database. METHOD. Search frequencies of MEDLINE via the PaperChase interface by 184 fourth-year students (class of 1992) at the University of Michigan Medical School were analyzed using the log cross-product technique. The students were required to take the Comprehensive Clinical Assessment, an examination that included a search assignment, as they entered their fourth year of medical school. Their levels of MEDLINE use and their retrieval performances before the examination were compared with those achieved during the subsequent five months as fourth-year medical students. RESULTS. For those who searched an average of at least once a month during their first three years of medical school, there was a 7.38:1 chance that they would conduct three searches per month in the fourth year, compared with those who searched less frequently. The odds of retrieving at least one item of definite relevance were 8.27:1 for those who had searched at least one and one-half times per month before the search assignment. CONCLUSION. Searching once a month through the first few years of medical school provided an experience level that improved the odds that a student would continue to search MEDLINE. Data indicated that a history of a minimum of 1.5 online sessions per month increased the odds of retrieving relevant items to 8.27:1. Implications for educational strategy are clear.
(C) 1994 Association of American Medical Colleges