Letters to the Editor
To the Editor: Medical education scholars have debated many approaches to improving the quality of medical education research (MER).1–4 Notably absent from this debate are ideas for improving a critical first step of every research project: the literature review. This can be done by updating the content of MEDLINE’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) database. Doing so is critical to improving the quality of MER and is easier than you might think.
Let me explain. A distinctive feature of MEDLINE (the largest component of the PubMed search engine) is that each article is indexed with MeSH terms that reflect that article’s content. MeSH terms are arranged in a hierarchical, tree-like structure by subject categories. This structure can make MeSH terms a powerful tool for performing a focused search at various levels of specificity.5,6
Currently, the ability to narrow a search for major topics in MER is severely limited by underdeveloped subheadings. For example, Teaching Rounds is currently (astoundingly) the only subheading under Internship and Residency. Fortunately, since the database is intended to be a dynamic list,7 user input is welcomed, and a straightforward procedure for recommending new subheadings is available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/meshsugg.html.
As medical educators and scholars, it is within our purview—and in our best interest—to propose MeSH subheadings for our areas of expertise. For example, some initial suggestions for new subheadings under Internship and Residency include Standardized Patients, Portfolios, Basic Science Education, Interprofessional Education, Team Based Learning, and Patient Handoffs. A brief justification and some citations from your latest manuscript are all it will take. Since existing articles are not reindexed, take action today to increase the fidelity of literature searches in your field and improve the quality of MER immeasurably.
David Stern Levitt, MD
Second-year resident, Internal Medicine Program, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Whitcomb ME. Medical education research. Acad Med. 2004;79:907
2. Kanter SL. Toward better descriptions of innovations. Acad Med. 2008;83:703–704
3. Bordage G. Conceptual frameworks to illuminate and magnify. Med Educ. 2009;43:312–319
4. Gruppen LD, Yoder E, Frye A, Perkowski LC, Mavis B. Supporting medical education research quality: The Association of American Medical Colleges’ Medical Education Research Certificate program. Acad Med. 2011;86:122–126
5. Chang AA, Heskett KM, Davidson TM. Searching the literature using medical subject headings versus text word with PubMed. Laryngoscope. 2006;116:336–340
6. Jenuwine ES, Floyd JA. Comparison of Medical Subject Headings and text-word searches in MEDLINE to retrieve studies on sleep in healthy individuals. J Med Libr Assoc. 2004;92:349–353
7. Lipscomb CE. Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). Bull Med Libr Assoc. 2000;88:265–266