Review Paper: Formal Systematic Review/Meta-Analysis

In contrast to other SP options, the systematic review is a study of the existing body of medical literature related to a particular topic. Systematic reviews are a type of meta-analysis that allows comparison across research articles and do not require statistical analysis. Systematic reviews are a way to evaluate the published medical literature to answer questions related to efficacy of a treatment or intervention, or the strength of an association between two medical entities (e.g., Hepatitis C and Diabetes). The articles analyzed are selected and reviewed according predetermined criteria. After searching for and obtaining articles using PubMed (and other commonly used databases), the analysis is conducted by reading the articles and applying strict evaluation criteria previously developed with your mentor and the librarian. The breadth of the search for articles determines whether the review is modified or full. Please note, though a modified systematic review is acceptable for your SP, only full systematic reviews are eligible for consideration for graduating with distinction in research.

Doing a systematic review may afford some flexibility, as the student may select and review the articles without being in library or in a laboratory. However, project planning and execution of the review will take about 18 months to complete. Students must create a mentoring team comprised of a research mentor and a librarian. Our medical library is an excellent resource for doing a systematic review. Racheline Habousha, Director of the D. Samuel Gottesman Library, has outlined the steps involved in doing a systematic review:

  • Define the question
  • With your mentor, decide on specific criteria ( i.e., include or exclude) for judging studies
  • With a librarian, identify and combine relevant concepts and create a search strategy
  • Do the search
  • Keep track of what you searched, databases used, and all articles retrieved
  • Organize results to indicate why you included or excluded articles
  • Reproduce the search to see if you get the same results
  • Make a forest plot to display your results, with qualitative interpretation, limited statistical analysis
  • Write article of results

Useful Resources for Systematic Reviews

To learn more about systematic reviews, start by exploring the website of The Cochrane Collaboration. This organization conducts reviews and is also a repository of information on how to do a systematic review. The Cochrane Collaboration has a compendium of previously completed systematic reviews and is a highly respected authority in this area.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews [version 5.1.0 March 2011] of Interventions provides tips on study design, analyzing data, and statistical measures.

A research guide compiled by our librarians on the website of the D. Samuel Gottesman Library.

Example systematic review articles:

  • Welsh EJ, Bara A, Barley E, Cates DJ. Caffeine for asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001112. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001112.pub2.
  • Howard AA, Arnsten JH, Gourevitch MN. Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review Ann Intern Med. 2004;140:211-219