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Topic Searching in PubMed®: Using the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®)

Training Course

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Learn how to use the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) for expert PubMed searching in this hands-on, self-paced course.

PubMed maps your search terms to Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the vocabulary NLM uses to describe articles, to augment your search with additional terms. Designed for librarians and other expert literature searchers in the health sciences, this course will help you better understand how PubMed uses MeSH and how you can take control of your PubMed topic searches for better precision or recall.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Recognize that MeSH is automatically included in PubMed searches and demonstrate how it improves your search results.
  • Identify when you need to go beyond the automated features of PubMed in your topic searches (and when you do not).
  • Document PubMed searches for formal queries.
  • Explore MeSH and build PubMed searches using the MeSH Database.
  • Accommodate unindexed records for comprehensive PubMed searches.
  • Apply distinct techniques for special PubMed searches.

Continuing Education (CE)

For Medical Library Association (MLA) CE, register for this course via NNLM at


Module 0: PubMed Basics (Prerequisite for MeSH) - Before diving into the topic of MeSH, you need to have a basic understanding of how to use PubMed. Take this module if you feel you need a basic review of PubMed searching.

Module 1: Foundations of MeSH in MEDLINE® - The goal of this module is to provide a foundational level of understanding of MeSH. This will allow you to recognize that MeSH is automatically included in PubMed searches and it can be used to help improve your searching.

Module 2: Refining Your Search (Beyond Automatic Term Mapping) - This module provides a deeper level of understanding of when searchers need to go beyond the automated features of PubMed in their topic searches (and when they do not), and how to document PubMed searches properly for formal queries.

Module 3: Exploring MeSH for Expert Searching - This module introduces the MeSH Database for exploring MeSH to build MEDLINE searches in PubMed, and to accommodate non-indexed records in comprehensive searches.

Module 4: MeSH Search Techniques for Special Queries - This module provides practical applications that can be used in specific PubMed searches. Some techniques may only apply to certain audiences.

Last Reviewed: March 31, 2023