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Systematic Reviews – the Pittsburgh Class from two perspectives

Angela Spencer
St. Luke’s Hospital
St. Louis, MO

I work two part time jobs, one as a hospital librarian, and one as a medical librarian for a school of nursing not affiliated with the hospital. Recently I was able to take the Systematic Review class offered at the University of Pittsburgh. This is a synopsis of what I learned and how I hope to apply it to each job.

As a hospital librarian, a couple of residents approached me asking for help on systematic reviews, but I realized I didn’t have the time or resources to assist them properly. The class confirmed this but also let me know what is involved in conducting a systematic review. While I am unlikely to be asked to do a systematic review at the hospital, I can now educate residents and others about what an systematic review is and why it is important.  Learning the search process for a systematic review will help me find the best evidence for any user. The class will also allow me to differentiate between different types of reviews. My residency director is also hoping we can use systematic reviews as a starting point for quality improvement projects.

I recently started at the school of nursing and was approached to work on an integrative review. At the time, I didn’t know what an integrative review was. I did some preliminary searching, and asked a couple colleagues for their input. After taking the class, I now know what I could have done better (project management), and what I did right (getting screen shots of my search strategies).

When starting on a review, it is important to meet with the researcher if possible. During this meeting, you should ask about the protocol, the main research/PICO question, what your involvement as a librarian will be, and if you can be named a co-author. Other questions would be what the criteria will be for inclusion and some sample articles if possible.

The next step of the process is to select terms. This is a process I wasn’t familiar with. The class showed us how to select terms using both MeSH and keywords and how to test them and recommendations for looking for terms in various databases. I was fortunate that I had reached out to a colleague who helped me gather the terms for this process, but in the future I will have to allow for time for this process because it can be elaborate depending on the question.

The next step is searching itself. I was comfortable using PubMed, but not other databases.  I looked at the database thesaurus and help sections to make sure I was searching correctly. For the future, I plan to see if there are webinars or tutorials I can view to improve my searching skills in other databases/platforms.

Finally, there is the documentation/project management process. While working on the integrative review, I knew this was an area I needed to learn more about. The class gave us directions on setting up a process, what to record, ways to record searches, what to send to the researcher, and other aspects of tracking and documenting the search. This was helpful and if I work on another review, I will definitely use these tips and try to set up a process to document what I searched, when and how the results were delivered, and other notes.

Overall the class was definitely worth taking. The instructors were all knowledgeable and gave us real life examples of projects they worked on, plus we worked on a sample systematic review to make the process more valuable. My classmates also had insights and questions from their own experience that were helpful. The class gave me a better picture of what is involved in doing a systematic review, processes and tips for working on a review, and how to talk more knowledgeably about what is involved in doing a systematic review.

Angela received a Professional Development Award to attend this class.

The MidContinental Messenger is published quarterly by the Network of the National Library of Medicine MidContinental Region

Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library
University of Utah
10 North 1900 East, Building 589
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-5890

Editor: Suzanne Sawyer, Project Coordinator
(801) 587-3487

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012344 with the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library.

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