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RTI Research Spotlight: Librarian-Led Research Shows New Curriculum Model Increases Student Learning in Evidence-Based Medicine

If you work at an academic health sciences library like I do, I am sure you have sometimes wondered about the impact of your teaching. Do your students actually retain material when you guide them through an activity or a one-shot teaching session? Would it be better to have more librarian integration into the curriculum to teach lifelong skills in critical thinking, evidence evaluation, and application of knowledge to patient care? These were the big-picture questions that guided me through my MLA Research Training Institute (RTI) project, the results of which were recently published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine in a special issue on teaching evidence-based medicine (EBM).

Along with my coauthors Amy Blevins, Daniel J Trujillo, and Kenneth H Lazarus, Ruth Lilly Medical Library, Indiana University School of Medicine–Indianapolis, I analyzed EBM assignments completed by several cohorts of medical students in their internal medicine clerkships to determine whether there were any differences in scores based on different curricular approaches taken during the first two years of medical school. Our findings showed that medical students who received a progressive, scaffolded curricular approach to learning EBM performed better when asked to apply EBM concepts in their clinical years than students who did not. This is particularly true when these students were asked to formulate a clinical question based on a patient case and to critically appraise and apply information from an article to patient care. The students who received the progressive, scaffolded approach also scored higher on the EBM portion of US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) step 1 test than the ones who did not.

Although it is difficult to perfectly prove causation when studying an educational intervention, this study does have some interesting implications for librarians who teach in the health sciences. First, the progressive, scaffolded sessions in the successful curriculum were designed and taught by librarians. The fact that students who completed these sessions were able to better retain and apply EBM skills shows that librarians can and should be effective partners in the curriculum. Second, the results show that a progressive and scaffolded curricular approach to teaching EBM correlates to higher competence and retention compared to a one-off session or workshop.

Included with this article is an appendix detailing the EBM curriculum and the instrument used to assess students’ skills. The article, as well as supplementary materials, is on the BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine site.

* Laura Menard is a fellow of the 2019 MLA Research Training Institute (RTI), and this project was the focus of her research. The RTI project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (RE-95-17-0025-17).

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