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BMD 202: Survey of Biomedical Sciences Literature

What is PubMed?

PubMed indexes over 24 million citations from biomedical and life science journals and some online books. PubMed citations and abstracts include the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, and pre-clinical sciences. PubMed is a free resource that is developed and maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), located at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While you are at UAB, you should always access PubMed through the library's website so you can have access to online journals the library pays for.


Getting started searching in PubMed is pretty straightforward - you just need to understand what the database does with your search terms.

Briefly, when you enter your search into the box, PubMed will analyze your terms and add related terms to your search.  These related terms will include synonyms and the appropriate Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms.

To learn more about searching in PubMed, click the image below for a brief video tutorial on how to find articles by subject!

PubMed tutorial icon

Another way to find articles PubMed is to build a search using Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH.

MeSH is the "controlled vocabulary" used by the National Library of Medicine - basically a set list of terms used to categorize and index articles.

Using MeSH terms to find articles in PubMed will expand your search skills and connect you to articles you may not have normally found.

To learn more about MeSH terms, a printed guide is available from the National Network of the Libraries of Medicine OR click the image below for a brief video tutorial!

Video Tutorial - Use MeSH

What are Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)?

Articles in PubMed are indexed using a standardized vocabulary called Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®). A human being actually reads through the articles and assigns a list of MeSH terms for each article. You can think of MeSH terms as standardized tags.

MeSH is a powerful, value-added feature of PubMed that works behind the scenes to improve your searches. It provides consistency and uniformity so all articles about a certain subject will be retrieved, even if different terms for the concept are used in the article. For example, MeSH enables you to enter heart attack as a search term and still find articles that only use the term myocardial infarction. While myocardial infarction is the official MeSH term, PubMed recognizes heart attack as a synonym (PubMed calls these Entry Terms). Any search terms you enter that PubMed recognizes, will automatically be expanded to also search by the corresponding MeSH term. How nice!

MeSH terms are arranged in a hierarchy and are updated annually to reflect the latest advances in biomedical research.

You can browse the entire list of MeSH terms in the MeSH Database, which can be really helpful when you're starting out with a search and not sure what term(s) to use.


Want to Learn More?

Our PubMed via LHL Guide has many more tips and training resources if you're interested in learning more about PubMed.

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