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Nursing: Should You Use CINAHL or PubMed?

Database Characteristics

Prior to starting your research, it is important to choose the most appropriate database. For a search related to nursing, PubMed and CINAHL Complete are the principle sources.

Database Characteristics

Features PubMed CINAHL Complete
Field Biomedical
  • Nursing Science
  • Allied Health Science
  • Education
  • Behavioral Science
  • Health Administration
Types of Content Journal articles
  • Journal articles 
  • Book chapters
  • Dissertations
  • Audio-visual material
  • Conference papers
  • Patient care sheets
  • Continuing Education modules
Are the articles peer-reviewed? The majority Only partly because CINAHL also contains non-scholarly publications, including information for patients
Subject headings (Controlled vocabulary)


Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)


CINAHL subject headings are based on MeSH, to which headings specific to nursing and allied health are added

Type of Question / Information

While it is important to be familiar with the different characteristics of CINAHL Complete and PubMed, the choice of database must also take into account the question itself as well as the type of information required.

If the question... Example Choose: specifically related to nursing or allied health What are the beneficial movements or exercises to help the elderly to preserve their mobility? CINAHL Complete more generally related to healthcare (ex. etiology of an illness, therapy, etc.) What are the long-term effects of  hormonal contraceptives on the health of non-menopausal women? PubMed
...focuses on patients or aims to provide information to patients or their families/caregivers What do you say to patients concerning the long-term effects of hormonal contraceptives? CINAHL Complete

Note: In the case of an exhaustive/comprehensive search in the areas of nursing or allied health, it is necessary to use both databases.