Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2009—Professional Matters

H-index pathology: implications for medical researchers and practitioners

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 15 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5356
  1. Rob Horne, professor of behavioural medicine1,
  2. Keith J Petrie, professor of health psychology2,
  3. Simon Wessely, vice dean, institute of psychiatry2
  1. 1Centre for Behavioural Medicine, The School of Pharmacy, London WC1H 9JP
  2. 2Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  1. rob.horne{at}

    The h-index has quickly become the standard method by which medical schools judge the impact of medical researchers. Rob Horne, Keith Petrie, and Simon Wessely describe a cluster of potentially pathological behaviours associated with the index.

    In 2005 Jorge Hirsch proposed the h-index as a means of measuring the productivity and impact of a researcher1. A researcher’s h-index is determined by the highest number of papers they have published to receive at least that many citations (figure). So a scientist with an h-index of 40 has written 40 papers that have received at least 40 citations. The h-index can be obtained through the subscription databases of Web of Science and Scopus, or through using Publish or Perish software, which is based on the Google Scholar database, enabling brave (or reckless) authors to check their own h-index.

    Illustration of h-index calculation

    Although the h-index is not without its drawbacks, it has quickly become the standard measure by which medical schools judge the value of academic staff.2 The process of observing or assessing performance can influence behaviour and the h-index is no exception. The increasing importance of citation rate as an index of success has led to an increase in self …

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