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RN to BSN Gateway Program

This guide serves as a virtual orientation to the library and research for students of the RN to BSN Gateway Program for Nursing.

Beginning Research for Nursing Students

Getting Help

The single most important thing to know about research is that you can always get help from the Library!

Research Consultations

Need help with research for a paper, project, or other research-related task? Schedule an appointment with a Research Librarian, either in-person or online using Zoom. Click on the green box labeled "Make a Research Appointment" on the right of this screen.


Chapel Cowden is the Health & Science Librarian at UTC and works closely with all Nursing programs here. Contact her via email at While email is a great way to get in touch and get the research ball rolling, Chapel will likely ask you to meet with her online using Zoom which offers a richer learning experience.

Online Chat Service

Need an answer quickly and it's after 5pm? Use the Library's chat service! Our Ask A Librarian chat service allows to you live chat with a real librarian who can answer your research questions. The service is open any time the Library is open (until midnight on most nights). You can also text us at 423-521-0564.

Library Services for Distance Learners

Articles & eBooks

As a currently enrolled UTC Distance Learning program student, you can access hundreds of thousands of ebooks and articles through the library. These materials are accessed online from the Library's website using your UTC ID and password. 

Need a physical book?

Check local libraries

  • We encourage our Distance Learners to check with their local libraries first for books they need, if possible.
  • If you live near a University of Tennessee school, you can use your Mocs Card to apply for an account to check out materials.
  • If you live near a Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) school, you can fill out a form to request a card (form on right side of page) to get borrowing privileges at all TBR school libraries. View a list of TBR schools or the TBR Borrowers Card Policy

If you can't get a book locally, we may be able to ship one to you from UTC

  • Fill out an InterLibrary Loan request for the book
  • In the Notes field, indicate that you are a full-time distance learner and need the book shipped to your address
  • Our InterLibrary Loan team will get in touch with you to discuss options.

Unfortunately, we don't have it all...

There may come a point in your research when you need something that the library does not own. In that case, you should use our free Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service.

  • In many cases, journal articles will be available in as little as 24 hours after you submit your request.
  • When an article is ready, you'll receive an email. Follow the directions to receive your article electronically as a PDF.



Where Do I Search

Please watch the short video below to determine where to start your research. Never used the CINAHL database before? Have no clue what PubMed is? Explore the Database Tip Sheets on the right-side of this page to learn how to use these important health research databases.

**Click on the image below to watch Nursing: Where Do I Search?

screenshot of video


Choose the best Keywords

Why are keywords important?

By this point in your college career, you have probably had a chance to search library databases. You understand that you need keywords (not sentences) when you search a database. However, using health science terminology might be new territory.

Natural Language vs. Database Language

Natural language refers to the common way that we speak in everyday life. Database language refers to how a database classifies a concept and is usually very technical. Though most databases are great at matching natural language entered with database terminology, it’s important for you to begin recognizing medical terminology. Some examples include:

Natural Language Database Language
Heart attack Myocardial infarction
Swelling Edema
Bruise Contusion
ACL Anterior Cruciate Ligament
Shingles Herpes zoster

Where to Find Synonyms

  1. The Internet: Is your search term or concept called anything else? Look it up in an online encyclopedia to find out. 
  2. Other background sources: You can also easily find synonyms in other background sources, including your lecture notes, textbooks, and print encyclopedias (yes, they still exist!).
  3. Use database subject headings: CINAHL, a nursing and allied health database, is great for finding subject headings. If you run a search and find a good article, look at the subject terms listed by the database. Use those terms in subsequent searches. 


  1. Start with your research question:
    Can pre-screenings help decrease the risk of cardiac arrest deaths in young athletes?
  1. Sort out the major terms. In this case:  
    pre-screenings AND cardiac arrest death AND young athletes
  1. Make a list of synonyms and related terms for each of your major terms.

    Synonyms and related terms for the word cardiac arrest death include:

    • sudden cardiac death (SCD)
    • sudden cardiac arrest
    • heart arrest

    Synonyms and related terms for young athletes might include:

    • student athletes
    • high school athletes
    • adolescent athlete
    • youth sports
    • high school sports
    • youth football (or basketball, soccer, etc.)

Build a Search Strategy

Once you've decided what to research, where you plan to search, and the keywords you want to try, it's time to create a search strategy. Each of the following sections will help you build and properly conduct your search.

Search Commands (AND, OR, & NOT)

These words can be used in Library databases, but also work really well in Google! They are important for creating efficient, effective searches.

Command Purpose Example Search Visualization

Expands the search.

Used to string synonyms together.

Results include all articles with any of the terms used.

Hand washing


Hand Hygiene

(all results including the words "hand washing" as well as all results including the words "hand hygiene")

venn diagram - union of two sets with search terms 'hand washing' and 'hand hygiene'

Narrows the search.

All retrieved results must include all terms connected with AND.

AND usually combines different concepts together in one search.

AND is assumed between words in Google.

Hospital infection



(only results that include both the terms "hospital infection" and "antibiotic")

venn diagram - intersection of two sets with search terms 'hospital infection' and 'antibiotic'

Excludes results with a specific term.

Really handy to eliminate unwanted search results.




(all results with the term "antibiotic", but excluding those with the term "penicillin")

venn diagram - relative compliment of terms 'antibiotic' not 'penicillin'

Example Search

So how do we put these terms into use along with what we learned about synonyms in the keyword section? Let's take an example research question and break it down into a good search strategy.

Does hand washing amongst healthcare workers reduce healthcare facility acquired infections? 

Synonyms for Concept #1  Hand washing OR Handwashing OR Hand hygiene OR Hand disinfection
Synonyms for Concept #2  Healthcare facility acquired infection OR Hospital acquired infections OR Nosocomial infections OR Healthcare associated infections
Synonyms for Concept #3  Healthcare workers OR Health personnel OR Healthcare provider OR Health professional

The idea here is to combine synonyms and concepts in different ways for multiple searches. Combining your terms should reduce the overall number of searches needed. Example search strategies:

  • (Hand washing OR Handwashing OR hand hygiene) AND (nosocomial infections OR cross infection) AND (Health personnel OR Healthcare workers)
  • (Hand washing OR Handwashing) AND (nosocomial infections OR cross infection)
  • Pretty much any way you can think of to combine your terms is a good idea!
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