Health Journalists Learn to Mine NLM and NIH Resources

Six leading health journalists recently got a unique look at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They spent a week in September on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., participating in the Association of Health Care Journalists-National Library of Medicine Fellowship Program.

The program, now in its second year, provides a better understanding of the resources at NLM and NIH so journalists can enhance their reporting and obtain new stories.

“NLM’s alliance with AHCJ is a natural fit,” says Robert A. Logan, PhD, an NLM senior staff member who established and runs the fellowship program with AHCJ. “Health journalists need quick access to evidence-based resources, and NLM provides the latter information.”

Housed at the Missouri School of Journalism, in Columbia, Mo., the AHCJ works to advance public understanding of health care issues by improving the quality of health care reporting, writing and editing. It is headed by veteran journalist Len Bruzzese, who says that in addition to the usual constraints of space and deadlines, today’s health reporters have less time for multiple interviews, in-depth research and follow up.

“Now Twitter feeds, blogs, and Web sites demand constant feeding,” he says. “Because they grapple with complexity, health journalists need a diverse set of skills. For example, they must be able to interpret complicated science, switch gears to tackle financial health care records, and then comprehend and explain dense bureaucratic health policies and regulations.”

To help navigate health, medical, and scientific topics, the reporters learned about many of the Library’s online information resources, all of which are free. The journalists got a close look at the medical literature resource PubMed®; the consumer health Web site MedlinePlus®; the registry of clinical trials; and the environmental health tools TOXNET® and Household Products Database. They also met with senior staff and researchers at NIH and NLM for discussions on topics including: the future of personalized health records; personalized medicine; and health disparities in the United States.

“Few newsrooms are able to pay for anything more than technical training these days,” says Bruzzese. “Too few journalists have access to the advanced training which leads to the deeper understanding of the topics for which they are responsible. These Fellowships are like graduate courses for busy professionals.”

The AHCJ selected the 2010 Fellows from dozens of qualified applicants. The participants were:

  • Karla Gale, health reporter, Reuters Health
  • Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor, Consumer Reports
  • Sally James, freelance health journalist
  • Sandra Jordan, health reporter, St. Louis American
  • Hiran Ratnayake, health reporter, The Delaware News-Journal
  • Miriam E. Tucker, senior writer, Elsevier

If you are interested in the work of the Association of Health Care Journalists or in applying for an NLM-AHCJ Fellowship, visit the AHCJ Web site.

For more information about the AHCJ-NLM Fellowship program, please contact Dr. Robert A. Logan at

By Thomas Conuel, NLM in Focus writer

Photo Caption: The 2010 Association of Health Care Journalists-National Library of Medicine Fellows (from left to right): Jamie Hirsh, Miriam Tucker, Hiran Ratnayake, Sally James, Sandra Jordan, Karla Gale.