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Pharmacy Literature Search Skills

PubMed Vs. Ovid Medline

Many people find Ovid Medline easier to search than PubMed. Ovid Medline:

  • usually suggests more relevant MeSH terms than PubMed does
  • does not use Pharmacological Action terms the way PubMed does, making it easier to search for classes of drugs
  • makes it easier to read and manage a long, complex search strategy
  • offers the "adj" operator to search for words near each other

Ovid Medline and PubMed contain the same content, so there's generally no need to search them both.

PubMed and MeSH

PubMed includes the Medline database (~5600 journals) plus some additional articles, many of which will eventually be added to Medline. Articles in Medline have MeSH terms and other data added to them by subject experts to make searching easier. 

MeSH terms (Medical Subject Headings) are standard terms that subject experts use to label articles. Using them helps you find more relevant results, and keeps you from having to think of every possible keyword to describe your concept.

In PubMed, you may encounter some similar terms - Pharmacological Action terms, which search for all the drugs with that action at once:

Supplementary Concepts are also standardized terms, generally for drugs or substances which don't have much literature about them. Supplementary Concepts may become MeSH terms later, when there is more research published about them. 

  • Example Supplementary Concept: apixaban

PubMed Key Features

PubMed has many useful search features, including:

Automatic term mapping - PubMed will attempt to match the words you put in with relevant MeSH terms. You can view how your terms have mapped in the "Search Details" box on the right side of the screen. 

MeSH database - by changing the drop-down menu next to the search box from "PubMed" to "MeSH," you can search for MeSH terms and learn more about them. 

Advanced search - clicking "Advanced" beneath the search box takes you to a screen where you can easily combine searches together, or search for words in specific fields such as author or title. 

Filters - found to the left of your search results, these tools let you narrow your search down by type of publication, year published, age group, language, and more. Click "Show additional filters" to see the range of choices available. 

For more details on searching PubMed, please see the guide below:

PubMed Searching

Last Updated May 8, 2019 492 views this year

Medline Tutorials

The first link below, Guided Medline Exercise, walks you step by step through building a search. The second link is to a series of brief videos which give an overview of searching in Ovid Medline.

Ovid Medline Example Search Strategy

Below is an example search strategy in Ovid Medline for this question:


"What kinds of interventions* have been tried to limit antibiotic overuse in the ICU?"


Search Strategy Line


1. Antimicrobial Stewardship/ or exp Anti-Bacterial Agents/

The most appropriate MeSH term, OR the MeSH term for antibiotics, exploded to include all specific drug terms. The / indicates a MeSH term.

2. (antibiotic* or antimicrobial* or antibacterial* or anti-microbial* or anti-bacterial*).mp

Keywords for antibiotics. The * finds singular and plural forms - anything that starts with those letters. The .mp stands for "many places" - looking for an exact match for those characters in the title, abstract, MeSH, and a few other places (not the full text of an article). Because it’s looking for an exact match, hyphenated versions of words need to be searched too.


You may search more than one keyword on a line like this, or you can separate them into separate lines.

3. 1 or 2 [antibiotics]

Combining synonyms, set 1 and set 2. You may find it helpful to add comments in square brackets.

4. Physician's Practice Patterns/


5.  exp Drug Prescriptions/


6. exp Drug Utilization/


7. Inappropriate Prescribing/


8.  stewardship or misuse* or overuse* or


9. or/4-8 [overuse]

Some of these MeSH terms and keywords were found by looking at relevant articles and seeing which MeSH were used to index them, or noting new keywords that might be relevant.

10. exp Intensive Care Units/

Exploded to include NICU and other narrower terms.

11. intensive care or ICU*.mp

Note that when you enter words next to each other, they are searched as a phrase in Ovid (in this case, intensive care)

12. 10 or 11 [ICU]


13. 3 and 9 and 12

Search results with all 3 concepts. If this is too many results, try using some limits. Limiting to systematic reviews or other reviews is often a good start.


*Note: “intervention” is often not a useful term to include in your search. There is no MeSH term for it, and it may not come up as a keyword in relevant articles.