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Featured resource: “The Nursing Database,” aka CINAHL

Because I work mostly with a nursing academic and practice community, when I’m asked which databases one should search, I usually suggest the trifecta of Pubmed/Medline (which are to a great extent synonymous), Embase, and CINAHL. While CINAHL is often thought of as “the nursing database,” there is also coverage of journals in a number of related disciplines in allied health: CINAHL is an acronym of the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature, which was first published in print format in 1961 and became an online database in 1984.

Comprehensive nursing and allied health coverage:

There are several reasons not to overlook a CINAHL search, especially — but not only — if you’re researching a “nursing” topic. CINAHL has some of the most comprehensive coverage of nursing journals of any database, currently covering almost 5,500 journals. Whereas PubMed indexes 750,000 articles from nursing journals, CINAHL provides access to more than 6 million. The core coverage of nursing journals in Pubmed is, in fact, quite limited; while the journals that are included are very prestigious, important, and high quality, there aren’t more than about 200 nursing titles that are comprehensively included. So for any topic where nurses would be writing the orders, doing the research, or have a vested interest in the outcomes, CINAHL is a vital resource!

Two ways to search CINAHL:

Systematic searching. It’s worth remembering that we provide two different interfaces for searching in CINAHL: the first is designed for the more iterative, systematic, focused style of constructing search statements through a methodical, stepwise procedure grouping together subject headings and related keywords and phrases to separately capture the main conceptual areas of your clinical question, and then connecting these areas through AND statements. This can be a little time consuming and not especially intuitive, but offers more certainty of comprehensiveness, reproducibility, and a greater ability to translate equivalent searches between different databases.

Basic searching. The other interface relies more on the internal algorithms that power discovery in CINAHL to provide a more intuitive, “quick search” framework, offering more immediately relevant results by sacrificing precision and comprehensiveness.

CINAHL Basic Search

For assistance with using CINAHL or other nursing resources, contact Richard James at rjame@upenn.edu

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