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. The journal is published by BMJ Group, 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.
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. 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 1⁄2 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."
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'.
The BMJ published the first centrally randomised controlled trial. The journal also carried the seminal papers on the causal effects of smoking on health and lung cancer and other causes of death in relation to smoking.
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.
The BMJ is an advocate of evidence-based medicine. It publishes research as well as clinical reviews, recent medical advances, editorial perspectives, among others.
The journal releases a number of "theme issues" every year, when it publishes research and review articles pertaining to the theme addressed. Some of the popular theme issues in recent years include "Health in Africa", "Management of Chronic Diseases", and "Global Voices on the AIDS Catastrophe".
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. The results are often humorous and widely reported by the mainstream media.
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. 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, a number of local editions of The BMJ are published in translation. There is also Student BMJ, an online resource for medical students, junior doctors and those applying to medical school, which also publishes three print editions a year.
Functioning of the journal
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. 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.