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WHSL Introduction to the Medical Literature: Introduction

This guide will show you the basics of how to find information in print and online at the Witwatersrand Health Sciences Library

Exercise: Find Osler on the cover of JAMA: Part 1

A picture of Sir William Osler was featured on the cover of the journal called Journal of the American Medical Association on 22 December 1969. WHSL has a copy of this journal in print. You need to become familiar with the way in which medical journals are organised, and the best way to do so is to examine the print literature for the past 300 years. 

The title of this journal is often abbreviated to JAMA. During your career as a medical student you will often need to find information in scholarly journals. References or citations to the journals use common conventions (ie.format or style).

The reference to this commemorative issue of the journal is: JAMA, 22 December 1969: 210(12). The journal title is normally shown in italics; the volume number of the journal is shown in bold; while the issue number is shown in (brackets). Find this journal for yourself at WHSL.

Introducing Medical Literature

"It is hard for me to speak of the value of libraries in terms which would not seem exaggerated... To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea ..." (1) This is a quotation from Sir William Osler, who was one of the founding professors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland in the USA as long ago as 1889.

Nothing has changed for you in the 21st century. As a medical student, you are expected to make use of, to analyse and to integrate information into the subject knowledge that you acquire. When you integrate this material into written assignments, you are also expected to acknowledge from where this information has been taken, and to refer to the original source of the information. You will do so by learning how to cite (or refer to) the literature.

Osler's quotation above has been cited using the Vancouver or Uniform style. This is shown by the number of the citation (in brackets) in the text above, and by the citation, in numerical order, below. All citations follow a standard style or format, which make it easy for those in a particular subject discipline to understand the shorthand notation used in order to track the original document.


(1) Osler, William. Aequanimitas, with other Addresses to Medical Students, Nurses and Practitioners of Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1944, p.210.

Exercise: How to Find the Osler Cover in JAMA: Part 2

1. Using the e-Wits catalogue, find the shelf number (location) of the journal JAMA in the Witwatersrand Health Sciences Library (WHSL).

  • The e-Wits catalogue can be accessed from any computer at Wits, or remotely (eg. from home).

2. Now find the physical print volume of JAMA that you require.

  •  Note that older print journals at WHSL are housed in an area called the "Compactus" or the "Store". More recent print volumes are housed in the "open shelf" area. The most recent print journals are housed in the "current periodicals" area. The current print journal issues have not yet been bound (ie. they still have soft covers).
  • Not all journals, especially the older volumes, are available electronically.
  • You should familiarize yourself with the print journal shelf layout in WHSL.

3. Once you have located JAMA volume 210 of 1969, find the December 22 issue (number 12).

  • A print volume of a journal is made up of several issues. JAMA is published weekly (ie. every week), so there will be four issues every month for that year of publication.
  • Because this would have meant that there were 52 issues in any one volume (and the volume would have been too thick to bind), the publishers of JAMA have split the 1969 journal into four volumes, with three months' worth of issues in each volume.
  • Thus volume 210, 1969 of JAMA contains only the weekly issues published from October to December of that year. Earlier issues published in 1969 will appear in volumes 207 to 209.


Sir William Osler

Sir William Osler 

Frontispiece for publication titled Sir William Osler, Memorial Number: Appreciations and Reminiscences; last photograph taken of Sir William Osler
Source: Sir William Osler, memorial number : appreciations and reminiscences edited by Maude E. Abbott. Montreal:s.n., 1927.  © Public Domain from Library and Archives Canada