Collaborating to bring journal clubs to PubMed Commons: A librarian’s perspective

Journal clubs can be a great tool in graduate and medical education. They provide opportunities for students to practice important skills: literature searching, critical reading, scholarly debate, and in some cases, even writing. But are there ways to enrich the journal club experience? How can journal clubs become contributors to broader discourse? These questions intersect with traditional and evolving roles of librarians in higher education. Julie Hartwell shares how a collaboration with faculty on PubMed Commons got started and its initial impact.

Before joining the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Hartwell was in the A.R. Dykes Library at the University of Kansas Medical Center. When the PubMed Commons Journal Clubs pilot launched, Hartwell and her library colleagues were enthusiastic about bringing local journal club discussions to PubMed. So she talked to the School of Nursing faculty about PubMed Commons Journal Clubs. Clinical Assistant Professor Chito Belchez shared her excitement about the idea.

Complementary missions

Evidence-based practice research is a core element of the Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at the University of Kansas. Belchez was leading a course called “Nursing in an Evolving Healthcare System.” For this and related courses, the journal club format offers flexibility to cover current developments in nursing practice. It also helps students develop the skills needed for critical literature review.

Univ of Kansas Nursing-img

“They have to go through PubMed. They have to go through CINAHL [Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health]. They have to go through all those databases to find an article outside their required readings to review,” Hartwell describes. Students do their individual work outside class. In class, groups read and review the paper they’ve selected. Next, reviews go into Blackboard, an online learning management system (LMS). “They’ve been posting to discussion boards – creating a new thread, posting a review, and commenting on each others’ work.”

“Librarians have been trying to bring in this [Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)] standard of ‘Scholarship as Conversation,’” Hartwell shares. The ACRL framework recognizes that research is not a one-and-done event. It casts scholarly discourse as an ongoing process, taking place in many venues.  It suggests that, although systems may favor experts’ voices, “novice learners” can contribute in meaningful ways.

But there are barriers to dissemination, even with online systems. Hartwell notes, “It’s not brick and mortar so much as the walls of an LMS. You have all these great ideas… but they’re hiding in the LMS where only your classmates can see them.” It’s one reason she was excited about the prospect of PubMed Commons Journal Clubs. It was a chance to expand the journal club’s reach and to promote the principles of Scholarship as Conversation.

Building on frameworks

The University of Kansas School of Nursing Journal Club joined PubMed Commons in March 2015. As of June 2017, they’ve posted 23 comments.

Not every review written for the course makes it into PubMed Commons. “The students are given a rubric that’s based kind of on the PRISMA [reporting] guidelines – what do you need to do to review an article,” Hartwell explains. Although it was already in use, faculty began to think more about the rubric. They wanted to have clear guidelines for deciding which comments would appear in PubMed.


Hartwell talks about the journal club at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association

Along the way, Hartwell assisted with structure and support. She facilitated the PubMed Commons joining process. She was also able to get an inside look at what was being taught. “I was able to work with instructors on that rubric to make sure they were using the right terminology and providing students with the right resources,” she notes. She was also able to see how students search for and select articles.

The addition of PubMed Commons posts seems to have provided a new incentive for students. They started following the rubric more closely. Faculty saw search strategies and writing improve. Hartwell comments, “The faculty will tell you that it’s created a healthy kind of competition. ‘We’ve got to do a really good review to get in PubMed.’” (You can read their comments here. They have a strong interest in nursing leadership and shared governance. They’ve also covered publications about workplace environment, quality improvement measures, and the impact of transnational migration on nursing workforces.)

There are some unique advantages to librarians teaming up with journal club instructors. Hartwell shares, “What I found interesting was to… see what articles they’re reviewing and how faculty communicate library resources to their students.” Collaborations like this give librarians the chance to see what’s being put into practice. And that means they can point faculty and students to up-to-date or alternate resources and provide tips for using databases like PubMed.

PubMed Commons also affords an opportunity to archive discussions and present them to a broader audience. “Without PubMed Commons, these good reviews and challenging questions would be lost in LMS. No one would ever see them again,” Hartwell says. “Share. Don’t leave these awesome enriching discussions hidden or, for face-to-face journal clubs, just lost. Preserve them.”


Want to share and preserve your journal club’s reviews on PubMed Commons? Learn more here.

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