A network for students interested in evidence-based health care

Students 4 Best Evidence: new kids on the blog

Posted on 5th October 2016 by


In the third blog of our new series, Understanding Evidence, Selena Ryan-Vig introduces Students 4 Best Evidence, a blogging network by and for students interested in evidence-based healthcare. Join in the conversation on Twitter with @Students4BE @CochraneUK #understandingevidence

…the young people are the most striking phenomenon. They’re bringing a blast of energy, enthusiasm, idealism and cutting edge scientific work with them… the most exciting things are the signs of change in medical and health professional education that are bubbling up. (Hilda Bastian)

How it all began…

In 2012, Syrian student Norah contacted the director of Cochrane UK, Martin Burton, to ask for assistance in setting up a group for students interested in evidence-based healthcare. In recognition of the need for such a group, and with input from a small group of pioneering students, Students 4 Best Evidence (S4BE) was born: a growing network of students interested in evidence-based healthcare. Now in its fourth year, S4BE continues to provide an online space where students can help one another to learn (more) about what evidence-based healthcare entails and to help foster within one another the skills to critically engage with evidence.

So what exactly is S4BE?

S4BE is a website comprising blogs written by students of all ages (from school-age to PhD level) from all over the world, including the UK, the Americas, Mexico, The Netherlands, India, Australia and many more. It’s by – and for – students, with bloggers studying a range of different subjects. This includes, but is not limited to, medicine, physiotherapy, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and so on. Not all registered bloggers study a healthcare-related subject though, with one studying chemistry for instance, and another studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. This reflects the fact that the ability to understand evidence cuts across numerous disciplines; both healthcare and non-healthcare related.

On average, one or two blogs are published each month (although this fluctuates in accordance with students’ busy academic calendars!) To date, 373 blogs have been published, over 350 students have registered to blog, and an additional 200+ individuals have signed up to receive the S4BE newsletter. S4BE also has around 2000 followers on both Facebook and Twitter.

What do students blog about?

Students blog about any topic or issue related to evidence-based healthcare they feel vocal about, have knowledge of, or an interest in. For example, a number of bloggers have taken a critical look at some fundamental issues and debates in evidence-based healthcare: concerns regarding over-treatment, debates around cancer screening, publication bias and so on. Broadly though, students’ blogs tend to fall into one of three main categories:

  1. Tutorials on, or explanations of, evidence-based concepts. This might be a blog explaining different types of bias that can affect research, or a tutorial on a methodological or statistical concept. For example, our most read blog is ‘a beginner’s guide to interpreting odds ratios, confidence intervals and p-values’. Written by (now former) medical student Tim Hicks, it has racked up over 475,000 views since publication in 2013.
  2. Critical appraisals of the latest health evidence. For example, what does the latest research say about using Ritalin for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in young people? Or, are the healthcare claims that hit the headlines really backed up by evidence? For instance, have scientists really made a breakthrough that could ‘halt leukaemia in its tracks’?
  3. Reviews of evidence-based resources and tools (such as online courses, videos or articles);giving detailed descriptions and feedback on how useful the resource is.

Student-written tutorials tend to be particularly popular, helping readers get a handle on some tricky topics.

A comments section under each blog enables the blogs to be ‘peer-reviewed’, as fellow students, or any interested reader, can comment on them post-publication.

The S4BE website also features a ‘library’; where resources and tools have been pulled together into one handy page which is continually updated as new resources become available. This can be anything from articles on how to read and interpret different kinds of research papers, to weblinks to a series of accessible videos about statistics. These resources aim to assist students in asking questions; searching for evidence; appraising and acting on research and evaluating practice (whether their own or others’).

What can students get out of S4BE?

  • S4BE offers a (free) international platform for students to share their thoughts and knowledge with (as well as learn from!) like-minded peers, and to experience having their work published.
  • “By teaching, we learn”: There is some evidence to suggest that explaining a concept to others is an effective way to grasp that concept for yourself (Chase et al. 2009).
  • Blogging for S4BE is good way to boost your CV or portfolio: each blogger receives a URL to a webpage featuring all of the blogs they’ve written for S4BE. This can be listed in a CV or application form. Additionally, individuals who blog more than twice a month for three months or more receive a certificate signed by the director of Cochrane UK.
  • Subscribers (whether they choose to blog or not) get free access to Trip Pro (the premium version of a healthcare database, featuring thousands of journal articles).

Any student is welcome to join; they need not have ever blogged before. Even if students do not wish to blog, hopefully they will find other students’ blogs, and the variety of other resources on the website, useful and interesting. We’d love for as many students as possible to get involved with S4BE. The more who do, the more we envisage students’ understanding of evidence will increase. Ultimately, we hope, this will benefit patients, as today’s students become tomorrow’s practitioners committed to practice that is evidence-based.

If you would like to know more about getting involved with S4BE (S4BE.org), contact Emma Carter at general@students4bestevidence.net or@Students4BE on Twitter or through our Facebook page (/Students4BE). If you’d like to register to blog for Students 4 Best Evidence, or know a student who would, you can do so here: https://s4be.cochrane.org/register/

S4BE also currently partners with over 40 organisations that are mutually committed to getting evidence-based healthcare into student education. A list of which can be found here. If you would like to know more about becoming a partner, contact Emma at emma.carter@cochrane.nhs.uk

References may be found here.


Selena Ryan-Vig

Selena Ryan-Vig is a Knowledge Broker at Cochrane UK. Her role involves sharing Cochrane evidence in accessible ways, managing Cochrane UK's website and social media accounts, and producing newsletters. With a colleague, Selena delivers interactive sessions to students from Years 10 to 13 to teach about evidence-based practice and to encourage critical thinking, particularly around healthcare claims made in the media. She also co-delivers talks for students to raise awareness of Cochrane and reliable, evidence-based resources. She has a psychology degree from the University of Bath. During her degree, she worked for a national charity which provides support for young women. View more posts from Selena

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