Pharmacy 504 - Secondary Resources and Library Skills - September 2017

PubMed - Initial Searches

Let's look at the first database: PubMed.

PubMed is:

  • is an interface that allows you to search MEDLINE
  • one of the best resources for primary literature (studies) and secondary literature (reviews) in the biomedical sciences
  • your best resource for systematically locating recently published articles.

To get to PubMed from the HSL page, click on the pharmacy guide link in the middle of the page, then select the link to PubMed. It is very important that you always go to library resources like PubMed and other databases through an HSL or UNC libraries link. You may also want to bookmark the link to the Pharmacy guide, as it contains links to many of the sources you will need during your time at the School of Pharmacy.


Now, type in a search term into the main search bar. Once you have typed in your search (in this instance, heart attack), scroll down until you can see the search details box.

Ideally, what you want to see in the search details box are MeSH terms. MeSH, or "medical subject headings" are one of the things that makes searching PubMed very different from using a search engine like Google.

MeSH is the controlled vocabulary used for indexing in PubMed. MeSH terminology provides a consistent way to retrieve information where several different terms may be used for the same concept. For example, an author may say "heart attack" or "myocardial infarction" for the same event. Finding the correct MeSH term is the key to retrieving relevant articles even when authors use different words or spellings for the same topic.

In our example, you can see that PubMed automatically found that heart attack should take us to the MeSH term myocardial infarction, so PubMed automatically detected that the MeSH term for heart attack is myocardial infarction, which it listed in the search details box, along with the term or terms you searched for. 

One thing you do not want to do when you are initially searching PubMed is to use quotes around your search terms if you want PubMed to try to find the MeSH term. Using quotes tells PubMed to search for exactly what you put into the search box and not to do what we want it to do in this instance, which is to see if there is a MeSH term for your search. Once you have determined what the MeSH terms are, you can go back and add in quotes if you need more control over your search results. 

PubMed - MeSH database

If you do not find a MeSH term on your initial search, you may need to dig a little deeper by searching the MeSH database. You can find the MeSH database by going back to the PubMed homepage and selecting the "MeSH Database" link.

Once you're in the MeSH database, type in your search term and see if there are any suggestions. In this case, PubMed is telling us that the MeSH term is myocardial infarction, which we can then use in PubMed for our search.

PubMed - MeSH from Published Articles

A third way to find a MeSH term is to use another article that looks relevant and to see its MeSH terms. MeSH terms are added manually by librarians at the National Library of Medicine, which is a process that takes about six months, so new articles may not have them, but older articles will. Once you see an article published at least six months ago that looks relevant, click on the title and then scroll down again to where you see MeSH terms. If you expand this menu, you will see 6 to 12 or more MeSH terms to choose from. In this case, the article includes the term myocardial infarction.

If the MeSH database doesn't return anything for your initial search, you may also want to try brainstorming to think of other synonyms for your term that may show up in PubMed. 

PubMed - Filters

One way to narrow your search to the most relevant articles in PubMed is to use PubMed's built-in filters along the left-hand side of the search results page. There are several ways to limit your search; the PubMed defaults include:

  • article type
  • publication date
  • species

You can also use the "Show additional filters" link to add options like:

  • language
  • sex
  • subjects
  • ages

PubMed also allows you to limit by text availability, but it is not advisable for you to use this filter. UNC pays for many more articles than are available freely in PubMed to the general public, and using this filter will get rid of all of those additional articles that you have access to as a UNC affiliate.

PubMed - Advanced Search

To combine your searches in PubMed, you can use the "Advanced" button to see the history of all the searches you've done in PubMed in the last day. You can even copy and paste this into a Word document and save it to refer back to later.

You can also use this page to combine your searches, so if you want to search for heart attack and ace inhibitors, you can type those search numbers into the search box and click search. 

Other PubMed Tips

  1. If you find an article that you would like to read, you can use the full text links to find a PDF of the article. In PubMed, there is usually a publisher's link and the button. You will generally want to choose the button, as this will link you back to our catalog and the resources that UNC pays for. If you are off campus, you can log in with your onyen and password to see the article.
  2. If the article's title says withdrawn, that means that the article contains errors or other inaccuracies and should not be used.
  3. If an article title is in brackets, then that article is in another language, and you should probably find another article unless you can read that language.

PubMed - Summary

To sum up MeSH searching:

  1. don't use quotes around your search terms
  2. check your search details each time you do a search
  3. if you haven't found the MeSH term (and not every word has a MeSH term) try other words
  4. look at the MeSH terms of other articles for suggestions or use the MeSH database

A few final PubMed tips:

  1. check carefully to make sure you didn’t select an article that has been marked as withdrawn
  2. make sure the article is in English or another language you can read
  3. use filters to specify a date range and consider using other helpful filters like limiting to reviews articles, age ranges, etc.
  4. you can visit these links if you want more help on using PubMed:
    1. Health Sciences Library's PubMed Ten Tips:
    2. Tutorials from the National Library of Medicine (NLM):
    3. NLM's Animated Tutorials:
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