A medical journal is a scientific journal devoted to the field of medicine. Most medical journals are peer-reviewed. Medical journals commonly arose as the journal of societies, such as the precursors of the British Medical Association, and would originally be collections of letters sent to the society by distant members, with an account of the proceedings of the society's recent meetings distributed to various members and the library. With the increase in science, medical research and activity, and publication, nobody can keep up, and in self defence articles picked by individuals are discussed in journal clubs at academic institutions. The prominence of medical journals is often determined by each journal's impact factor.
In the closing years of the 20th century most medical journals had a Web presence, the BMJ notably so, thus increasing their accessibility to and input from a wide variety of people and places, and there continues a general move from print as a primary medium to the electronic ones, with participation in Bio-Med Central.
Some of the better known medical journals with high impact factors are:
- The New England Journal of Medicine
- The Lancet
- Journal of the American Medical Association
- Annals of Internal Medicine
- Nature Medicine
- British Medical Journal
- Archives of Internal Medicine
With the surging popularity of Internet, it is evident that medical journals are undergoing some sort of transformation from the traditional subscription based and pay-per-view to open access some or all of their contents. For example, Canadian Medical Association Journal is made freely available without registration/login, and Journal of Clinical Investigation has its archive completely open access. The new journal PLoS Medicine has made good progress, together with other successful journals such as International Journal of Medical Sciences.
Medicine vs. health
Within the fields of research there is an ongoing cultural disagreement regarding the terms "medicine" and "health". "Medical journals" appear to emphasise research by and for medical doctors. "Health journals" focus less on a single profession, and more on providing health care to patients, clients and populations. As time has gone on and language changed physicians' dominance in research societies and organizations has become less apparent, and more non-physicians have wished to be recognised. Changing names has disadvantages, and inconveniences those making reference. As well, the very concept of a journal as a predetermined bound collection of specific articles seems unlikely to continue, with individual articles being adequately described, indexed and made available.
An example is the Society of Adolescent Medicine in the United States, which has had several failed attempts to change the name to the Society for Adolescent Health primarily to recognize their non-physician members. However, they have changed the name of their journal to the Journal of Adolescent Health.
For an article to be accepted for publication in a medical journal it must undergo a review process. Each journal creates its own process, but they have certain common characteristics in general. There are various general "levels" of scrutiny, which have some effect on the respect given to articles published in the journals. Some broad categories might be editorial review, peer review, and blind peer review.
In this process, articles which meet the minimum requirements for submission (such as including the necessary descriptions of funding, privacy and publication releases, ethics/institutional review board approval, statements of original work, signatures of authors, and so on,) are first looked over by a managing editor or a member of an editorial board. They may be referred back to the authors for revision and resubmission, rejected, or presented to the editorial board for final approval.
A more stringent review process includes a full peer review. After first review by a managing editor or member of an editorial board, an article which has good possibilities will be sent out for review by two or more researchers in the specific area. If these reviews are positive the article may be referred back to the authors to address any comments by the reviewers, or (rarely) may be accepted immediately by the editorial board. Certified reviewers with a Certificate in medical writing and reviewing is something that was never reported, as the reviewers are not payed. However, if there in not 100% certainty that the reviewer is fully informed on this work, low quality in reviewing work may be produced. The International Journal of Medicine has performed for the first time in history of medical reviewing the examination of reviewers, even if they are University Professors, in order to emphasize that reviewing in medicine is a very serious work that cannot be served by "experts in rejection". Interestingly, in the collection procedure, the editor of this journal met - through their CVs- young medical doctors who are already reviewers in medical journals,they had never published one article of their own in their whole life, but were accepted to correct (with the protection of anonymity) the manuscripts of other scientists, under the pressure of the peer-review system.
The most stringent common review process is the same as the peer review above, except all references to the authors are removed from the article before review by the researchers. This has been particularly important in medical research as there is a strong bias against articles produced by non-physicians, which are more likely to get rejected.
Medical journals are a single field of scientific endeavour, but cover a wide range of topics. Inevitably there is a need for specialization. Generally speaking the journals tend to be intervention/practice focused. They may be categorized by medical specialization, client age focus, or practice focus.
Editors of journals may have undisclosed conflicts of interests.
- Medical literature
- List of medical journals
- Journal Club
- Impact factors
- Style guide
- Beyond Open Access: Open Discourse, the next great equalizer, Retrovirology 2006, 3:55