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Library Resources for DNP Students: Exploring: New PubMed

This guide provides information on how best to utilize library resources throughout your DNP program at the College of Nursing.

Vocabulary used on this page...


MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings, which is the controlled vocabulary (or official language for the organization of resources) of PubMed.


Limits and filters allow you to narrow the results down to only the ones that are most relevant. Common limits that are applied include: article type, date, and language.

Tip: the more limits and filters you set, the narrower your results will be. It is possible for you to limit your results all the way down to 0, so be careful.

Tip 2: do not limit by Full Text. As a student of ECU, you can receive the full text of articles either with your PirateID and password, or through our free Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service if ECU does not own a copy of the article. Electronic resources can be e-mailed to your ECU account.

Creating a personal account

Personal accounts in databases are free, and I strongly recommend creating an account for each database you may use. They are particularly valuable when you need to save your searches for longer than your current browsing period. Closing your browser almost always erases your search history; having a personal account allows you to save searches that you may want to look at again later.

To create an account in PubMed, click on Log In at the top right of the page.

Screenshot of PubMed homepage with arrow showing Login button

Next, click on Sign up, then Create a New NCBI Account, and follow the instructions to create your account.

Screenshot of PubMed Log in screen Screenshot of arrow pointing to Account creation button on PubMed Sign up page Screenshot of PubMed Sign up page

I recommend that you use a personal e-mail account rather than your ECU account for PubMed. This is because PubMed is a public resource, so you will always have access to it even after you graduate from ECU. By using your own personal e-mail address, you will be able to log in after graduation and retrieve all of your searches from your time at ECU.

Advanced searching in PubMed

Searching MeSH Terms

To fill out the second row of your concept table, you will need to know the controlled vocabulary for each of your concept groups. To search this in PubMed, you will need to search the MeSH Database. From the main PubMed screen, locate MeSH Database under the Explore category, and click the text to open.

Screenshot of PubMed homepage with MeSH Database link circled

Next, type in one of your concept groups into the search bar. Then click Search.

Screenshot of MeSH Database search

This will bring you to the MeSH results page. You can select as many or as few MeSH terms that apply to your concept group as you like, just be sure to use OR in between each term so that PubMed knows to search them all.

Screenshot of MeSH Database search results

Anatomy of the MeSH term record page

If you click on the hyperlinked MeSH term, you will be taken to the MeSH term record page. Clicking on Add to Search Builder will allow you to see the term in the proper command format to instruct PubMed to treat that term as a MeSH term when you search. Highlight this term, then copy and paste into the second row of your Concept Table.

The MeSH term record page provides the term, definition, year of introduction into PubMed, Entry Terms, and the MeSH term tree.

Screenshot of MeSH Database record page

If you are ever unsure about whether to use a specific term to apply to your concept group, read the provided definition carefully.

The year of introduction allows you to see not only how old a particular term is, but also to determine whether you need to consider additional MeSH terms to capture an entire concept. For instance, Sexual and Gender Minorities was introduced in 2018 to replace the previous MeSH terms Bisexuality (used from 1990-2016), Homosexuality (used from 1986-2016), Transgender Persons (used from 2013-2016), and Transsexualism (used from 2001-2016). If my search needs to gather materials from the data ranges for the other MeSH terms, although they are outdated, I might consider applying t hem to my search. Note: Indexing should automatically update all resources to the current term, but it may be necessary to use the previous terms, depending on how your search is going.

The list of entry terms allows you to see what terms are commonly searched in PubMed that are automatically indexed under the MeSH term you have selected. This is an excellent list to use to help you jog your thoughts on synonyms and related terms. Note: If you build your synonyms and related terms from this list, be sure to update your keywords in the other databases as well so that you are performing as identical a search as possible across all databases.

The MeSH term tree allows you to see where the term falls within the broader MeSH organization. This allows y ou to identify possible narrower or broader terms that you may consider adding to your search if necessary.

Conducting an Advanced Search

Repeat the process above until you have selected all of the MeSH terms you need for your robust, complex search. After gathering the MeSH terms for all three concepts, my example concept table now looks like this:

  Concept 1:
Concept 2:
Health literacy
Concept 3:
Rural areas
MeSH "Nurses"[Mesh] "Health literacy"[Mesh] "Rural Population"[Mesh]
"Rural Nursing"[Mesh]
"Rural Health Services"[Mesh]
"Rural Health"[Mesh]
"Medically Underserved Area"[Mesh]

"Nursing personnel"

"Health literacy" Rural
"Rural areas"
"Rural health centers"
"Rural population"
"Rural populations"
"Rural health nursing"
"Underserved populations

When I add my Boolean operators, my search becomes:

("Nurses"[Mesh] OR Nurse OR Nurses OR "Nursing personnel")


("Health Literacy"[Mesh] OR "Health literacy")


("Rural Population"[Mesh] OR "Rural Nursing"[Mesh] OR "Rural Health Services"[Mesh] OR "Rural Health"[Mesh] OR "Medically Underserved Area"[Mesh] OR Rural OR "Rural areas" OR "Rural health centers" OR "Rural population" OR "Rural populations" OR "Rural health nursing" OR "Underserved populations")

Now, I will use the Advanced Search screen in PubMed to run the search. From the main page, click on the word Advanced under the search bar.

Screenshot of PubMed homepage with Advanced link circled

Next, copy and paste one concept group at a time into the Query box. Click the arrow beside Search to toggle on Add to History. This allows you to stay on the Advanced Search screen while you build your search before viewing any article results. I like to do it this way so that if I need to rework my search (changing one concept group, for instance), then I can do so without having to change the entire search as whole.

Screenshot of PubMed Advanced Search Builder page

Continue to add one concept group at a time, clicking Add to History between each group. When you have added all of your concept groups, locate the ellipses (...) beside each search. Clicking these will display options you have for combining your previous searches together.

Screenshot of search history on PubMed Advanced Search Builder page

Click the ellipses (...) beside the first search, then click on Add query. This will automatically add the search into the query box.

Screenshot of adding queries to Advanced Search page on PubMed

Click the ellipses (...) beside the next concept group, then select Add with AND. This will add the next group into the query box, using AND to separate it from the first group. The Boolean operator AND acts as a limiter and tells PubMed to search both groups together.

Screenshot of query added to Advanced Search screen on PubMed

Repeat this process with any remaining concept groups. Once all of your groups are loaded into the Query box, toggle the search button back to Search, then click Search.

Screenshot of all queries in Advanced Search on PubMed

After clicking Search, you will see the results page. You can apply limits and filters by clicking the words on the left-hand sidebar.

Screenshot of results page on PubMed

Clicking on Additional Filters will open a pop-up window. This window offers you more options for filter types. Select the ones you want to see, click on Show, and then click on the filters to apply them after the page has automatically refreshed. As you select filters, PubMed will refresh the results page to display only those articles that meet the selected criteria.

How to see your search details

PubMed uses a process called Automatic Term Mapping to interpret your keywords that you search. To see how PubMed interpreted your search, return to the Advanced search screen. Scroll down to your Search History and Details, and locate the v under the word Details beside your selected search.

Screenshot of downloading search history on PubMed

It is a good idea to check how PubMed interprets your search before committing to it. As you can see in this example, PubMed interpreted my search using the word "nurses" as "breastfeeding." To edit your interpreted search, highlight it, then copy it and paste it into the Query box. Delete any terms that are inappropriate for your search interests, and then re-run the search.

You can download your search details by clicking Download. This opens a .CSV file, which you can view in Excel or other spreadsheet software.

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How to access the article

To access articles that look relevant to you, click on the article title to open the article page. Click on one of the links to the right to view Full Text of the article. The new Cite feature automatically generates citations in AMA, MLA, APA, and NLM citation styles. (Note: proofread these citations carefully before submitting any assignments.) Page through your results from the article record page by clicking the arrows to the right and left of the page. Use the record navigation menu on the right to jump down to specific areas of the article record. For instance, clicking on Similar Articles will quickly jump the page down to show you the articles that are related to this one.

Screenshot of elements of record page on PubMed

How to save articles

To save the article to a citation manager (like RefWorks, Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote), click on Save from either the article page or the results page. In the Format menu, select .RIS file. Follow the prompts to save for your software.

Screenshot of record page on PubMed


Note: if you created an NCBI account, you can also save the articles by clicking on the ellipses button (...) and then selecting My Bibliography or Collections. Follow the prompts on these pages to save your articles to PubMed. You can also save articles as Favorites.

How to save your search

Searches can be saved if you created an NCBI account. To do this, click on the word Advanced under the search bar. Then, scroll down to your History and Search Details box. Click on the ellipses (...) in the Actions column, then choose Save to MyNCBI.

Screenshot of Search details on PubMed

Setting an alert will allow PubMed to run your search as frequently as you want it to, and you will receive e-mail alerts when new articles become available that meet your search criteria. To create an alert, click on Create Alert at the top of the page.

Screenshot of creating an alert on PubMed

Follow the prompts in the pop-up window that appears to determine the name of your saved search and frequency that you would like it to run.Screenshot of creating an alert in PubMed

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