Thursday, September 28, 2006


I had a call from a researcher who wanted to know the first names of the two doctors after whom Mueller-Weiss Syndrome was named. He had googled the surnames, but couldn’t find any information on their given names.

Had this happened after Tuesday’s class, I would have immediately gone to the Dictionary of Medical Eponyms - B.G. Firkin and J.A. Whitworth - W13.F57 1996 and found my answer there. However, I tried other search engines than Google, and found the site on AltaVista

This gave me the information I was looking for and I was able to e-mail him with the information he needed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Trials of Clopidogrel

The pharmacy student I'd helped a couple of weeks ago was back again with another challenging question. This time he had an elderly patient with atrial fibrillation and was looking for information on stroke prevention. Specifically, he was looking for trials of Clopidogrel where it was not used in conjunction with the anticoagulants aspirin or warfarin (a drug that’s also used as a rat poison – presumably in less rigorously monitored doses). He had been looking in the International Pharmaceutical Abstracts database, but was not having a great deal of success.

We worked together to create the search below, choosing subheadings he thought would be most appropriate based on the results he was looking for.

While there didn’t seem to be a study that exactly matched his criteria in the 28 we looked at, he did find a couple of studies that seemed as if they would be useful and that might lead to further studies.

I’m hoping to play around with some of the limits and see what difference they make to the results.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Frontline health care in rural Zambia ca 1983

Everyone is posting cool pictures on their blogs, so I thought I'd go way back to 1983 and show a photo of a rural health clinic in Zambia. Mothers brought their under-5 children to have them weighed and innoculated. Children who were underweight were given a special high-protein supplement in an attempt to battle kwashiorkor. Traditionally, once mothers become pregnant they wean their children. The transition from mother's milk to maize meal is a difficult one for a two-year-old, given that maize has only about 8% protein.

The clinic is being held in a primary school in the Gwembe Valley near Lake Kariba that separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is an area that is drought prone and was also quite insecure (i.e., there was a lot of conflice between guerillas and Rhodesian fighters) until 1980 when the Zimbabwean independence war ended.

The second photo is a clinic built by the Salvation Army in the village of Chaanga, about a day's walk from where the first photo was taken.

The Pedagogy of Blogs -- Redux

In his UBC Google Scholar Blog, Dean raised the issue of the pedagogy of blogs to which I replied briefly. I’d like to come back to some educational theory that could be used to support the use of blogs.

Earlier models of education often saw it as a transfer of information from the teacher/expert to the student/novices. This view still holds in some parts of the world, but in North America it has largely been replaced by constructivism. The constructivist epistemology maintains that while there is a real external world, individuals construct their own knowledge of the world and attach meaning to it. The implications of this theory for education are important because constructivist teachers do not view education as merely imparting information from themselves to their students. Rather education is the teacher and students working together to construct knowledge and information based on the knowledge and experiences they bring to the class (This is even more important in the education of adults who bring large amounts of experience to the classroom and who tend to want to tie new things they learn to what they already know). Constructivism also attempts to situate the learning in real-world scenarios. This is one reason why I’ve chosen to blog about my experiences at the reference desk. It gives me a chance to apply what I’m learning in class to what I encounter in the real world.

Blogs fit well into the constructivist view of education. In Roger Schank's blog the link to which I posted a few days ago is a good example. Schank discusses a metaphor of libraries, knowledge and education, which he feels is outdated and then proposes a different model. He seems to have a considerable following of intelligent readers who take his proposed model and from their own knowledge, experience, and beliefs, propose a number of refinements. The dialog that ensues produces a much better model than he originally proposed.

The caveat in all of this is if no one responds to what someone writes, the educational value, although still present, is somewhat diminished.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug

I’m not sure if this falls into the category of medical librarianship, but I had a student asking about any research that has been done on marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug in sports.

I couldn’t find any studies like this on SPORT Discus, leaving me to suspect that marijuana is not performance enhancing, and that if it is, most of the research has been privately funded and done behind closed doors. I probably should have pursued it further, but sent him off.

I went back later and looked on Google Scholar for something on this topic. A number of articles mentioned it, but general consensus is that it is more likely to impair an athlete than enhance, so no rigorous studies have been done directly connected to athletes. There is some information on how it affects drivers (not very much, apparently, according to the Journal of Safety Research), which I suppose could be applied to athletes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Treatment for hyperparathyroidism

I had a pharmacy student come in and say he was looking for information on hyperparathyroidism (for those who were asking about the spelling of specialized terms, I had a go at spelling it on paper and then showed it to him to confirm that I’d got it right. I like to write down key terms as the patron describes what he/she is looking for. That way I don’t have to keep a lot of unfamiliar terms in short-term memory and I can go back and re-do searches when I have more time, to see if there is a better way to find relevant information.)

He said he’d been searching in PubMed and MBASE, but hadn’t been able to find anything useful. He also said he thought he was a pretty good searcher and couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t find anything. (At this point I started to sweat a bit. Work on the reference desk has the potential to make you look like a hero or an idiot -- sometimes you even look like both when you’re dealing with the same person. For those of my classmates who figure that I’ll choose only questions that make me look like a genius, I promise I’ll include some where I come out looking less than brilliant.)

I asked him a few more questions to get some more search terms from him. He was looking for information on treatments, especially those involving the use of vitamin D.

To start, I took him in through the Resources by Subject to the Pharmaceutical Science page. He didn’t seem to be aware of this and so I pointed out that it had a lot of good information that had been selected especially for pharmacy studies. He seemed happy to find that this existed.

I chose the database International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (IPA) and showed him how to build a search and limit results to English and studies dealing with humans. When we combined the search terms and limits we had about 24 hits. One we tried to look at was not available through UBC or CISTI, but further down we found a good recent review article that covered exactly what he was looking for. He was very happy because he’d learned something about building a search and found the information he was looking for.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Reference Question Saturday September 9, 2006

I had a forensics student come and ask for information on decapitation (a nice little pick-me-up on a quiet day at the reference desk!).

At first it was unclear through what discipline she was approaching the topic. She mentioned initially that she was looking for information on a legal case about decapitation, but when I started to show her the legal databases, she said she was a forensics student and looking at a murder that involved decapitation. She was particularly interested in finding medical information that might help investigators to know whether the person had been alive or dead at the time of decapitation.

I thought about using PubMed, but the focus of her question wasn’t really medical (and I wasn’t sure how much information PubMed has on forensic medicine), so I did what I often do when I get a question that seems to be interdisciplinary, used Google Scholar to get an idea of what’s out there. I first entered the search terms “decapitation murder”, but didn’t get enough information on the physical aspects. The hits seemed to focus more on the murders or murderers.

I changed my search terms to “decapitation death” and this gave me somewhat better results. However, I felt I could do better, so I also searched under “decapitation execution” and found an article that was particularly useful -- Features Characteristic of Homicide in Cases of Complete Decapitation. American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology. 25(1):83-86, March 2004.
Turk, E E. MD; Puschel, K MD; Tsokos, M MD

Abstract: Four cases of complete decapitation connected to homicidal acts are presented. In 3 cases, decapitation was inflicted postmortem after killing the victim. The motives for decapitation were considered defensive, aggressive, and a possible combination of the 2 in one case each. In one case, decapitation was a vital injury and accounted for death. In this case, an offensive motive for mutilation was suspected. The combination of death scene findings and autopsy results will in most cases distinguish between homicidal and other modes of death.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

PubMed Junkie Blog Purpose

PubMed Junkie Blog Purpose

To anyone who has stumbled across this blog on the open Web, it is part of the requirements for the class LIBR 534 Health Information Sources and Services. If you are looking for specific information on PubMed, you’ll probably do better looking elsewhere.

My aim in writing this blog is to describe some of the more challenging and/or interesting questions I encounter while working on the Woodward biomedical library reference desk, and how I attempted to answer them. I’m hoping that it will encourage other students in LIBR 534 to post questions they’ve had, and to discuss possible solutions.

All this should serve as a basis for reflection on current issues in providing medical reference, as well as areas that I need to develop my skills as a reference librarian.

I may change the focus as the term goes on.