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Improving the Findability of Evidence & Literature on Doulas

August 12, 2009

Over the course of looking for some citations to share with MomTFH, I noticed that the indexing for the concept of a “doula” is kind of all over the place in PubMed (the big, main medical literature database) at present. There is no specific MeSH term to be used in PubMed, MeSH being the system of vocabulary assigned to article citations in PubMed in order to help people find articles about a topic (it’s like tagging, but way more rigid). If your library catalog has subject terms in it that you can use to search or browse for books, it’s just like that, only slightly different…

Without getting too technical (go here for more detailed info about MeSH), if you want to figure out the “right” terms to use to conduct a literature search in PubMed, it can really help to start with the MeSH term database, because you know those are the official subject terms being assigned to the articles. MeSH is a hierarchy, and it can help you focus a search, or expand it when needed, by moving up and down the list of subject words. It’s a nice tool to have, when it works.

Unfortunately, there is no official subject term for doulas or the work of doulas. That means that if somebody is doing a search using MeSH, there’s no real *right* term to use, and there is little consistency in how subject terms have been applied to articles about doulas. A look at the articles on the doula concept finds that they’re currently indexed with some of the following terms:
-Personnel, Hospital
-Postnatal Care/methods
-Nurse’s Role
-Obstetrical Nursing
-Nurse-Patient Relations

None of these are precisely correct. Doulas are not nurses or midwives – even though some of them may have that background, it’s not the working professional requirement. Someone with doula training only is *not* automatically a nurse or midwife, and someone who is a nurse or midwife is *not* automatically a doula.

Granted, one can just do a keyword search in PubMed for doula*, but that doesn’t always cover it – sometimes you need to think of more/different keywords, or get varied results, or could really use the subheadings from MeSH, and it’s difficult to know if you’ve thought of everything. You could just do a keyword search for any concept in MeSH, but it’s not always going to be the most efficient or best approach (especially if people use slightly different language to talk about same/similar concepts). If MeSH exists, I think it should be thorough and accurate.

So, long story short, I think it’s a problem that MeSH doesn’t include a doula concept term. So I suggested one. The National Library of Medicine accepts suggestions for additions/changes on an ongoing basis via this form, and releases updated versions of the vocabulary every year. It helps the request, I think, to explain why the doula concept is different from the concepts of nursing or midwifery, and that the currently used terms are inadequate/inaccurate. If you send a suggestion, be polite and whatnot – and let me know you did!

This post should have come with a medical librarian nerd alert of some sort… [For bigtime medlib nerds, yes, CINAHL does have a heading for Doulas]

Update: A fellow librarian submitted the suggestion as well, and received a surly “enough already” response from whoever handled her submission – apparently it wasn’t *my readers* whose politeness I needed to worry about. Ahem.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. A'Llyn permalink
    August 12, 2009 6:18 pm

    Hey, that’s a good idea! I have seconded your suggestion to PubMed.

  2. A'Llyn permalink
    August 13, 2009 7:43 am

    Though NLM does tell me that “More suggestions doesn’t affect what is done,” and to quit it already with the lobbying for ‘doula.’

    • August 13, 2009 8:04 am

      No way, really? If you received a response like that (I didn’t), I’d like to see it.

  3. A'Llyn permalink
    August 13, 2009 8:40 am

    Oh, I don’t mean to make it sound like they’re filled with hate! That was my brusque summary. (Though they may be filled with hate, I can’t speak for them.)


    • August 13, 2009 8:49 am

      Oh, good – at first it sounded like you had gotten a surly response! 😉 [ETA: now that I’ve seen it, it sure looks surly to me!]

  4. August 13, 2009 3:39 pm

    Thanks for submitting the request! You’d think with a supportive Cochrane review and a USPSTF grade of “A” for the strength of evidence support of doulas, it would be easy enough to get a MeSH term. Keep us posted.

  5. August 15, 2009 12:13 pm

    Well done. As someone who has done a number of searches in this area I have encountered exactly the problems you identify. There is no question that this is a satisfactorily distinct and widely accepted term, and its entry into the MeSH pantheon is long overdue. Good luck with your request.


  1. MEDLIB’s ROUND 1.6 « Laika’s MedLibLog
  2. The Over-Explainer: A Bit About My MeSH-Themed Piece in the LSW Zine « Women’s Health News
  3. New 2011 MeSH Terms Include “Doulas” « Women's Health News

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