How to stay up-to-date with medical literature—for free

By Carol Nathan | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 23, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Staying current on the latest research in your specialty is a requirement for all practicing physicians.

  • There are countless, easily accessible resources to help physicians keep abreast of published medical literature, including websites with links to open access journals, PubMed, and relevant email newsletters and alerts.

  • Fellows who are constrained by time or financial resources can take advantage of free, full-text clinical resources.

It’s essential for all physicians to stay up-to-date on medical research, but this can be a challenge for medical fellows who are typically short on time and money. Fortunately, there are extensive, free, full-text research resources—if you know where, and how, to look. 

While many established clinicians have access to medical journals through medical libraries at their academic and clinical institutions, there is still a need for access to free, full texts outside of these environments. Not all clinicians are academically affiliated, and not all journals are available through medical libraries.  

MDLinx has outlined some helpful strategies for finding free, full-text clinical information online.

Free full text from PubMed

Most fellows are familiar with PubMed, which provides free access to approximately 35 million citations along with journal articles that are behind paywalls. In addition to research articles and studies, PubMed also contains links to medical books and reports that are only published in print. PubMed has a Tips sheet that offers many helpful hints,[] including how to search by author, topic or keywords, and known article title.

To access the free full texts on PubMed, run a search of a topic or author, then navigate to the Filters sidebar on the left-hand side of the page and check the box for “Free full text.” This will narrow down the search results. If you are unsure if a search result is free, you can check on the right-hand side of the article page and verify the presence of the “Free Full Text” icon, usually located below the publisher’s icon. Additionally, many of the titles in the PubMed Bookshelf are also free.[]

 Lists of free medical journals

Fellows may also want to take advantage of several online lists of free medical journals.

Related: Tune in: Top podcasts for medical fellows

Open Access Journals lists more than 700 peer-reviewed journals that are “open access,” meaning free.[]

Open Access Journals also has links to hundreds of medical conferences. Obtaining free access to the abstracts presented at medical conferences in your specialty is useful, especially if you are not able to attend the conference.

Free Medical Journals, which is maintained by the Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research, has a simple format with hundreds of links to journals by topic.[] A different website with the same name, Free Medical Journals, also has links worth reviewing.[] Note that they include journals that offer some articles (but not all) with free full text. This can also be useful, as they include more high impact journals in their lists. 

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JAMA Network Open

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) publishes a number of journals in many specialties, including JAMA Network Open, which is entirely free full text.[] JAMA Network Open covers a vast number of medical specialties, so you're sure to find information that meets your needs. The AMA provides free access to all of their JAMA journals with membership in AMA, as do many/most other associations, so check your memberships and your specialty organizations.

Signing up for free email alerts

Most, if not all, medical journals allow you to sign up for their email alerts and newsletters, without paying for a subscription, enabling you to get the clinical content that you want and need. Sometimes the free emails can provide enough high-level information on their own, without having to access the article. Another option is to choose to purchase a specific article featured in the email alert if it is highly relevant to your needs. 

For example, NEJM email newsletters often provide free access to live web events, free full text articles that you might not have been aware of, free quizzes to test your knowledge, and new features that the journal is offering that might be of interest.

The same approach applies to signing up for the free email newsletters from medical associations, medical conferences, and medical book publishers.

Free medical communications websites

Websites such as this one (, and others, are also great sources of free medical information. They cover important research and findings in most specialties, and you can sign up for free email newsletters as well. 

Clinical and academic affiliations 

Don’t forget to see whether any of your clinical or academic affiliations have medical libraries that you can access, either in person and/or online. Your affiliations usually entitle you to free access to all content, either with a membership card or password. 

What this means for you: 

Free full text medical information is available if you know where to look for it! Take advantage of the plentiful free resources mentioned here, and you will optimize your time, budget, and clinical knowledge. 

Related: How to manage patient care while staying up to date on medical literature

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