May 22, 2022

Research Article: “A Day in the Life Of Third-Year Medical Students: Using An Ethnographic Method to Understand Information Seeking and Use”

The following research article was published earlier this year in The Journal of the Medical Library Association.


A Day In The Life Of Third-Year Medical Students: Using An Ethnographic Method To Understand Information Seeking And Use


Andrea B. Twiss-Brooks
University of Chicago

Ricardo Andrade Jr
University of Chicago

Michelle B. Bass
University of Chicago

Barbara Kern
University of Chicago

Jonna Peterson
University of Chicago

Debra A. Werner
University of Chicago


Journal of the Medical Library Association
doi: 10.5195/jmla.2017.95
2017 Jan; 105(1): 12–19.



The authors undertook this project to learn how third-year medical students seek and use information in the course of daily activities, especially activities conducted in clinical settings in a variety of institutions.


We recruited sixty-eight third-year undergraduate medical school students to create a mapping diary of a day that included clinical activities. We conducted semi-structured interviews based on the mapping diaries. Using content and thematic analyses of the resulting interview transcripts, we developed an ethnographic case study for each participant.


In the studied sample, we identified a broad range of information resources used for personal, clinical, and educational use. Participants relied heavily on technology throughout their day, including desktop computers, smart phones, handheld tablets, and laptops. Time management was a pervasive theme in the interviews, with participants squeezing in time to study for exams wherever and whenever they could. Selection of a particular information resource or technology to use was governed largely by the convenience of using that resource or technology. When obstacles were encountered, workarounds might be sought, but in many cases, the resource or technology would be abandoned in favor of a more convenient solution. Convenience was also a consideration in choosing spaces to use for clinical duties or for study, with specific considerations of available technology, proximity to clinical areas, and security for belongings contributing to choices made.


Some of our results align with those of other recent studies of information use among medical students, residents, and practicing physicians. In particular, the fast-paced clinical setting favors use of information resources that are fast and easy to use. We demonstrated that the methods used are suitable to better understand clinicians’ discovery and use of information.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.