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Physician Assistant Capstone Project: Background Information

Finding and Using Background Sources of Information

What makes a good background source?

  • Librarians in the health sciences often get challenged by students as to why or why not certain resources count as "authoritative" enough to reference in their papers. This especially happens when the information they are citing is generally well-accepted by the medical community.  This guide will attempt to explain how to find and correctly use "authoritative" background information in your papers.
  • While point-of-care tools and study aids provide reliable definitions and information about symptoms, diagnoses, treatment options and more, they are not "formal" enough to be used in your academic assignments. Point-of-care reference tools like like UpToDate, DynaMed, Epocrates, and Medscape are meant to be used in the moment, while practicing medicine. Study aids or test review material like USMLE study guides and PANCE Pearls might present information in a way that is easy to understand, absorb, or even memorize, but they should not be used as reference information in the background sections of papers you are asked to write.
  • Just as we speak informally, we dress up our language when we write. (Look at any transcript of a normal conversation and you'll see how much we assume and leave out when we speak. On paper that transcribed conversation seems incomplete, but during the spoken exchange, the ideas are communicated adequately). When we write, it is important to explicitly connect the flow of ideas that you are communicating. Finally, it is important that your readers feel comfortable with the comprehensiveness and authority of what you are saying. Your readers might not be familiar with the latest popular study aid series, but they will know about long-standing professional associations whose contributors repeatedly publish on the topic. Your audience might also know about the research and writings of the most current and prolific experts in a given field, so it might be essential to mention reference them. 

Do not use...

  • Do not use point-of-care resources and study aids as references in the final draft of your paper. This is not to say that it's wrong to consult resources like UpToDate or DynaMed when you are in the process of writing it. In fact, it's good to consult multiple resources when learning something new. One thing that’s good about checking many resources like these is that you start to see how many of them agree (or disagree) and how one might do a better job explaining the concept than another. Perhaps it's written in a way that is easier for you to understand or places more emphasis on the parts of the concepts that are most important to your purpose. Ideally, if you consult many sources in your build-up to writing - having read about the same topic in a variety of places - the ideas might come out more naturally and you’ll have an easier time using your own words.

Find an alternative

  • Even if you really like how one person (an especially good writer/educator) puts it, try to find the information in another “more authoritative” source.  For example, when looking for the etiology of acute rotator cuff tears, the information might be found in ePocrates, but there is sure to be something more authoritative that has been published by a professional organization like, for example, the Society of Orthopedic Surgeons.  Rather than use a wide ranging too like ePocrates (that provides a little bit of information about a much many things) it is better to use a resource tha specializes in the subject (in this case orthopedics surgery).

Examples of good sources for background information

Medical Society or Government Agency Guidelines or Short Publications Flagship Journals Cornerstone Textbooks Explicitly titled "Reference Material" Monographs/ Mongraph Series (special subjects)
"2015 EPR and EEC Guidelines" (by the American Heart Association). First published in Circulation 132(18) Suppl2. Since updated in the Annual Guidelines Update via the Web-Based Integrated Guidelines.

Circulation (the official journal of the American Heart Association)


ISSN: 1524-4539 (web)

via AccessMedicine

ex. Harrison's principles of internal medicine (now on its 20th edition).

Stedman's Medical Dictionary (we get it via Stat!Ref) Huntington's Disease (Oxford Mongraphs on Medical Genetics)
"Clinical Guidelines fot the Use of Chronic Opioid Therapy in Chronic Noncancer Pain" (by the American Pain Society). First Published in the Journal of Pain 10(2).

The Journal of Pain (the official journal of the American Pain Society)


via ClinicalKey

ex. Cellular and Mocleular Biology (by Abbas et al, now on its 9th edition)

MedlinePlus (maintained online by the National Library of Medicine) Making Sense of Organization Change in Healthcare (Routledge Studies in Health Managemenr)
"2012 ACCF/AATS/SCAI/STS expert consensus document on transcatheter aortic valve replacement" (by a collaboration of multiple societies). First published in the the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery 144(3).

Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery (the product of several related societies and foundations)



via LWW Health Library

ex. Moore's Clinically Oriented Anatomy (now on it's 8th edition)

A Manual of Orthopaedic Terminology (8th edition) Translational Control in Biology an Medicine (Cold Spring Harbor Monograph Series 48)
"Guidelines for Inclusion of Patient-Reported Outcomes in Clinical Trial Protocols: The SPIRIT-PRO Extension" by the equator network and published in JAMA 319(5).

JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)


via R2 Digital Library

ex. Practical Radiology, 1st edition (Weber et al, 2013)

Dictionary of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (Hancock & Zvelebil, 2004).  
CDC Health Information for International Travel 2018 (aka the Yellow Book 2018) (published by The Centers for Disease Control)


via Thieme MedOne Education Books

ex. Clinical Tests for the Musculoskeletal System, 3rd edition (Buckup & Buckup, 2016)

The MD Anderson Manual of Medical Oncology (3rd edition)  
Roadmap to Residency: Understanding the Process of Getting into Residency (published by American Association of Medical Colleges, 2017)  

via ProQuest Ebook Central

ex. Realizing the promise of precision medicine: the role of patient data, mobile technology, and consumer engagement (Cerrato & Malamka, 2018).

Harriet Lane Handbook of Pediatric Antimicrobial Therapy (2nd edition).  

via ScienceDirect

ex. Abernathy's Surgical Secrets (now on its 7th edition)

A Dictionary of Public Health (Last JM, 2006, Oxford University Press).  

via Books@Ovid

ex. Abrams' Angiography: Interventional Radiology (now on its 3rd edition) 

Encylopedia of Survey Research Methods (2 volumes, 2008, Lavrakas PJ)  

via Wiley Online Library

ex. Holland Frei Cancer Medicine (now on its 9th edition)



* Monograph: A relatively short book or on a single subject, complete in one physical piece, usually written by a specialist in the field (ODLIS)

Portions of this page have been mapped from our Authoritative Sources of Background Information Library Guide. Visit the guide for more details.

Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Medical Library
305 348-1466 (phone)
305 348-0631 (fax)
11200 SW 8th Street, GL 380
Miami, FL 33199