Graham School News

Understand the Information-Gathering Tools Medical Writers and Editors Need

Philip Baker

At a time when accessing accurate medical information has never been more important, Rachel Wedeward’s class for the University of Chicago’s Medical Writing and Editing certificate, MEDLINE and Beyond: Medical Research Databases, provides an essential set of tools for navigating the increasingly labyrinthine landscape of healthcare information.

Designed to introduce medical writers and editors to advanced techniques for fine-tuning their search skills while looking for trustworthy medical, nursing, and healthcare information online, the class consists of hands-on research assignments that will culminate in the opportunity to create a writing sample at the course’s conclusion.

Rachel Wedeward, Medical Writing and Editing Certificate Instructor
Rachel Wedeward

“There’s really a tremendous amount out there for free that most people don’t know about,” Wedeward says. “The class dives deep into specific subject fields, healthcare data, as well as an array of databases, giving students the ability to learn these skills and put them to practice through assignments.”

With a degree in library science from Dominican University, Wedeward is currently a research information specialist at the American Hospital Association (AHA) Resource Center in Chicago, where her primary responsibilities include conducting research, providing reference services, and informing patrons about library resources.

“While I was getting my bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science, I happened to take an internship at my college’s library and I fell in love with it,” she says. “After starting my career, I worked in academic, public, and even jail libraries before entering the medical area.”

While the library field has changed in recent years as the task of providing information has come to center around a core set of skills applicable across its different subfields, there are nevertheless important factors to conducting medical research that make the area unique. Wedeward notes the subtle distinctions in the various medical databases and the differences not only in the quantity of information that’s available but also in the search engines one can use to access it.

“It’s always good when doing medical research to be comfortable using an array of health and medical search engines,” she says. “Different tools will give you different results depending what word or phrase you use in your search. They also cover the different databases—whether MEDLINE, PubMed, or any of the others—in slightly different ways, making it important to use various approaches when conducting research in order to get a full picture. At the same time,” she adds, “there are so many, it’s also important to have a sense for when you’ve done enough.”


“Different tools will give you different results depending what word or phrase you use in your search. They also cover the different databases—whether MEDLINE, PubMed, or any of the others—in slightly different ways, making it important to use various approaches when conducting research in order to get a full picture."


 In an area like healthcare which spans countless fields and impacts nearly every corner of today’s world, Wedeward’s course will serve a variety of professionals involved in the medical field. She notes that in the past the range of students in the class has included not only medical writers and editors, but also PhD students and doctors actively conducting research in their areas.

“There’s really no other class like this out there,” she says. “It stands out for its focus on providing students with a full picture—from the consumer side to the research side—of the tools that are available to find relevant and accurate medical information.”