The BMJ is a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal. It is one of the world's oldest general medical journals. Originally called the British Medical Journal, the title was officially shortened to BMJ in 1988, and then changed to The BMJ in 2014.[1] The journal is published by the global knowledge provider BMJ, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Medical Association. The editor-in-chief of The BMJ is Fiona Godlee, who was appointed in February 2005.[2]

Edited byFiona Godlee
Publication details
Former name(s)
Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal, British Medical Journal, BMJ
BMJ (United Kingdom)
Immediate, research articles only
LicenseCreative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License
27.604 (2018)
Standard abbreviations
ISSN0959-8138 (print)
1756-1833 (web)
OCLC no.32595642


The journal began publishing on 3 October 1840 as the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal and quickly attracted the attention of physicians around the world through its publication of high-impact original research articles and unique case reports.[3] The BMJ's first editors were P. Hennis Green, lecturer on the diseases of children at the Hunterian School of Medicine, who also was its founder and Robert Streeten of Worcester, a member of the PMSA council.

The first issue of the British Medical Journal was 16 pages long and contained three simple woodcut illustrations. The longest items were the editors' introductory editorial and a report of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association's Eastern Branch. Other pages included a condensed version of Henry Warburton's medical reform bill, book reviews, clinical papers, and case notes. There were 2 12 columns of advertisements. Inclusive of stamp duty it cost 7d, a price which remained until 1844. In their main article, Green and Streeten noted that they had "received as many advertisements (in proportion to the quantity of letter press) for our first number, as the most popular Medical Journal, (The Lancet) after seventeen years of existence."[3]

In their introductory editorial and later statements, Green and Streeten defined "the main objects of promotion of which the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal is established". Summarised, there were two clear main objectives: the advancement of the profession, especially in the provinces and the dissemination of medical knowledge. Green and Streeten also expressed interest in promoting public well-being as well as maintaining 'medical practitioners, as a class in that rank of society which, by their intellectual acquirements, by their general moral character, and by the importance of the duties entrusted to them, they are justly entitled to hold'.[3]

The BMJ published the first centrally randomised controlled trial.[4] The journal also carried the seminal papers on the causal effects of smoking on health[5][6] and lung cancer and other causes of death in relation to smoking.[7]

For a long time, the journal's sole competitor was The Lancet, also based in the UK, but with increasing globalisation, The BMJ has faced tough competition from other medical journals, particularly The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association.[8]

Journal content

The BMJ is an advocate of evidence-based medicine. It publishes research as well as clinical reviews, recent medical advances, editorial perspectives, among others.

A special "Christmas Edition" is published annually on the Friday before Christmas. This edition is known for research articles which apply a serious academic approach to investigating less serious medical questions.[9][10][11] The results are often humorous and widely reported by the mainstream media.[10][12]

The BMJ has an open peer review system, wherein authors are told who reviewed their manuscript. About half the original articles are rejected after review in-house.[13] Manuscripts chosen for peer review are first reviewed by external experts, who comment on the importance and suitability for publication, before the final decision on a manuscript is made by the editorial ("hanging") committee. The acceptance rate is less than 7% for original research articles.[14]

Indexing and citations

The BMJ is included in the major indexes PubMed, MEDLINE, EBSCO, and the Science Citation Index. The journal has long criticised the misuse of the impact factor to award grants and recruit researchers by academic institutions.[15]

The five journals that as of 2008 have cited The BMJ most often are (in order of descending citation frequency) The BMJ, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Lancet, BMC Public Health, and BMC Health Services Research.[16]

As of 2008, the five journals that have been cited most frequently by articles published in The BMJ are The BMJ, The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.[16]


In the 2019 Journal Citation Reports, The BMJ's impact factor was 27.604 in 2018,[17] ranking it fourth among general medical journals.[18] However, The BMJ in 2013 reported that it had become a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (commonly known as the Dora Agreement), which deprecates the inappropriate use of journal impact factors and urges journal publishers to "greatly reduce the emphasis on the journal impact factor as a promotional tool, ideally by ceasing to promote the impact factor or by presenting it in the context of a variety of journal-based metrics."


Cello Scrotum

In 1974, Dr. Elaine Murphy submitted a brief case report under her husband's name John which suggested a condition known as Cello Scrotum, a fictional condition which supposedly affected male cellists. It was originally submitted as a joke in response to 'guitar nipple',[19] a condition similar to jogger's nipple in which some forms of guitar playing causes irritation to the nipple, which Murphy and her husband believed was also a joke. The case report was published in the BMJ[20] and although not widely cited, it was cited on some occasions with those doing so expressing scepticism.[21][22] The truth of the case was reported on back in 1991[23] but it still remained in the BMJ until 2009.

In 2009, 35 years after the original case report was published, Murphy wrote a letter to the BMJ revealing that the condition was a hoax.[24] In this case, a proper use of peer review would have prevented the case report from being published.

Website and access policies

The BMJ went fully online in 1995 and has archived all its issues on the web. In addition to the print content, supporting material for original research articles, additional news stories, and electronic letters to the editors are its principal attractions. The BMJ website has the policy of publishing most e-letters to the journal, called Rapid Responses,[25] and is shaped like a fully moderated Internet forum. As of January 2013 there had been 88 500 rapid responses posted on the BMJ website.[26] Comments are screened for libellous and obscene content, however potential contributors are warned that once published, they will not have the right to remove or edit their response.[26]

From 1999, all content of The BMJ was freely available online; however, in 2006 this changed to a subscription model. Original research articles continue to be available freely, but from January 2006, all other 'added value' contents, including clinical reviews and editorials, require a subscription. The BMJ allows complete free access for visitors from economically disadvantaged countries as part of the HINARI initiative.

On 14 October 2008, The BMJ announced it would become an open access journal. This only refers to their research articles. To view other articles, a subscription is required.[27]


The BMJ is principally an online journal, and it is only the website which carries the full text content of every article. However, a number of print editions are produced, targeting different groups of readers with selections of content, some of it abridged, and different advertising.[28] The print editions are:

  • General Practice (weekly) for general practitioners
  • Clinical Research (weekly) for hospital doctors
  • Academic (monthly) for institutions, researchers and medical academics

In addition, The BMJ also publishes a number of overseas/ foreign language editions: Argentinian (in Spanish), Greek, Romanian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern (in English). There is also Student BMJ, an online resource for medical students and junior doctors which publishes an annual print edition each September.

Other services and information

The BMJ offers several alerting services, free on request:[29]

  • This Week In The BMJ: Weekly table of contents email, latest research, video, blogs and editorial comment.
  • Editor’s choice: Dr Fiona Godlee introduces a selection of the latest research, medical news, comment and education each week.
  • Today on Daily links to the latest articles from The BMJ.



  1. Payne, David; Abbasi, Kamran; Godlee, Fiona; Delamothe, Tony (30 June 2014). "The BMJ, the definite article". BMJ. 348: g4168. doi:10.1136/bmj.g4168. ISSN 1756-1833. PMID 24982510.
  2. "Godlee is made BMJ's first woman editor". Press Gazette. 11 February 2005. Archived from the original on 2 September 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  3. Batrip P (1990). Mirror of Medicine: A History of the British Medical Journal. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-261844-X.
  4. Medical Research Council (October 1948). "STREPTOMYCIN treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis". British Medical Journal. 2 (4582): 769–82. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4582.769. PMC 2091872. PMID 18890300.
  5. Doll R, Hill AB (September 1950). "Smoking and carcinoma of the lung; preliminary report". British Medical Journal. 2 (4682): 739–48. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4682.739. PMC 2038856. PMID 14772469.
  6. Doll R, Hill AB (June 1954). "The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits; a preliminary report". British Medical Journal. 1 (4877): 1451–5. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.4877.1451. PMC 2085438. PMID 13160495.
  7. Doll R, Hill AB (November 1956). "Lung cancer and other causes of death in relation to smoking; a second report on the mortality of British doctors". British Medical Journal. 2 (5001): 1071–81. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5001.1071. PMC 2035864. PMID 13364389.
  8. Mayor S (2004). "BMJ and Lancet rank among the most clinically relevant medical journals". BMJ. 329 (7466): 592. doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7466.592-e. PMC 516693.
  9. Eveleth R (23 December 2013). "The Best of the British Medical Journal's Goofy Christmas Papers". The Smithsonian. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  10. Liberman M (21 December 2007). "Language Log: 'Tis the season". Language Log.
  11. Bracco P, Debernardi C, Delmastro PF, Moiraghi A (December 1990). "[AIDS and pedodontics: the real risk and its prevention]". Minerva Stomatologica. 39 (12): 1027–32. doi:10.1136/bmj.39430.559375.47. PMC 2151146.
  12. "Santa's a Health Menace? Media Everywhere Are Falling for It—But the Study Was Meant as a Joke". Newsweek blog. 15 December 2014. Archived from the original on 6 January 2010.
  13. "BMJ peer reviewers: resources — BMJ resources". Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  14. "Is The BMJ the right journal for my research article?". BMJ. Retrieved 7 September 2015. Our rejection rate for research is currently around 93%.
  15. Seglen PO (February 1997). "Why the impact factor of journals should not be used for evaluating research". BMJ. 314 (7079): 498–502. doi:10.1136/bmj.314.7079.497. PMC 2126010. PMID 9056804.
  16. "Web of Science". Archived from the original on 14 February 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  17. "About BMJ". Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  18. 2015 Journal Citation Report Science Edition, Thompson Reuters, 2016.
  19. Curtis, P. (27 April 1974). "Letter: Guitar nipple". The BMJ. 2 (5912): 226. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5912.226-a. PMC 1610876. PMID 4857619.
  20. Murphy, John M. (11 May 1974). "Letter: Cello scrotum". The BMJ. 2 (5914): 335. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5914.335-a. PMC 1610985. PMID 4827125.
  21. Gambichler, Thilo; Boms, Stefanie; Freitag, Marcus (2004). "Contact dermatitis and other skin conditions in instrumental musicians". BMC Dermatology. 4 (4): 3. doi:10.1186/1471-5945-4-3. PMC 416484. PMID 15090069.
  22. Rimmer, Steve; Spielvogel, Richard L. (April 1990). "Dermatologic problems of musicians". J. Amer. Acad. Dermatology. 22 (4): 657–663. doi:10.1016/0190-9622(90)70093-W. PMID 2138638.
  23. Shapiro, Philip E. (1991). "'Cello scrotum' questioned". J. Amer. Acad. Dermatology. 24 (4): 665. doi:10.1016/s0190-9622(08)80178-8. PMID 1827803. (in reference to Rimmer & Spielvogel 1990)
  24. Murphy, Elaine; Murphy, John (January 2009). "Murphy's lore". The BMJ. 338: b288. doi:10.1136/bmj.b288. PMID 19174435.
  25. "Recent Rapid Responses". The BMJ. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  26. "Sharon Davies: Why we're reluctant to remove rapid responses from". The BMJ. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  27. Suber P (20 October 2008). "BMJ converts to OA". Open Access News.
  28. "The BMJ and Student BMJ ISSNs". The BMJ. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  29. "Receiving email alerts". The BMJ. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
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