Theory-based strategies for teaching evidence-based practice to undergraduate health students: a systematic review

Mary Anne Ramis, Anne Chang, Aaron Conway, David Lim, Judy Munday, Lisa Nissen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Undergraduate students across health professions are required to be capable users of evidence in their clinical practice after graduation. Gaining the essential knowledge and clinical behaviors for evidence-based practice can be enhanced by theory-based strategies. Limited evidence exists on the effect of underpinning undergraduate EBP curricula with a theoretical framework to support EBP competence. A systematic review was conducted to determine the effectiveness of EBP teaching strategies for undergraduate students, with specific focus on efficacy of theory-based strategies. METHODS: This review critically appraised and synthesized evidence on the effectiveness of EBP theory-based teaching strategies specifically for undergraduate health students on long or short-term change in multiple outcomes, including but not limited to, EBP knowledge and attitudes. PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, ProQuest Health, ERIC, The Campbell Collaboration, PsycINFO were searched for published studies and The New York Academy of Medicine, ProQuest Dissertations and Mednar were searched for unpublished studies. Two independent reviewers assessed studies using the Joanna Briggs Institute Meta-Analysis of Statistics Assessment and Review Instrument. RESULTS: Twenty-eight studies reporting EBP teaching strategies were initially selected for review with methodological quality ranging from low to high. Studies varied in course duration, timing of delivery, population and course content. Only five included papers reported alignment with, and detail of, one or more theoretical frameworks. Theories reported included Social Cognitive Theory (one study), Roger's Diffusion of Innovation Theory (two studies) and Cognitive Apprenticeship Theory (one study). Cognitive Flexibility Theory and Cognitive Load Theory were discussed in two separate papers by the same authors. All but one study measured EBP knowledge. Mixed results were reported on EBP knowledge, attitudes and skills across the five studies. CONCLUSIONS: EBP programs for undergraduate health students require consideration of multiple domains, including clinical behaviors, attitudes and cognitive learning processes; Interventions grounded in theory were found to have a small but positive effect on EBP attitudes. The most effective theory for developing and supporting EBP capability is not able to be determined by this review therefore additional rigorous research is required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number267
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


  • EBP
  • Education
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Health professions
  • Social cognitive theory
  • Theory-based intervention
  • Undergraduate


Dive into the research topics of 'Theory-based strategies for teaching evidence-based practice to undergraduate health students: a systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this