Meet Dr. Esther Sternberg, NLM’s New Board of Regents Chair

The “wow factor” of NLM became obvious to Esther Sternberg, MD, more than 20 years ago. And the new chair of NLM’s Board of Regents, Sternberg still feels it—maybe more so.

♢ The Board of Regents—On the cutting edge of change ♢

The NLM Board of Regents was established in 1956 by the same Act that created the National Library of Medicine. Two years later, the Library took its first steps into the computer age by launching a mechanized system for producing publications.

In 1962, the new National Library of Medicine opened on the NIH campus. The computer era took off with the establishment of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications in 1968, the creation of MEDLINE in the 1970s, the establishment of the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 1988, the introduction of free MEDLINE in 1997, the creation of consumer-friendly MedlinePlus in 1998, and the introduction of in 2000, among other developments. And today, data science is becoming increasingly important.

Through all these changes and more, the Board of Regents has served as the advisory body to the secretary of Health and Human Services, the director of NIH, and the director of NLM on important aspects of policy regarding the Library. In addition, the Board is the final review body for NLM’s extramural grant program.

The Board meets three times a year in February, May, and September.

♢ World renowned expert ♢

headshot of Esther Sternberg, MD

Esther Sternberg, MD

The newest figure to chair the NLM Board of Regents, Dr. Esther Sternberg, is featured in NLM’s Changing the Face of Medicine, which honors the lives and achievements of women in medicine.

Renowned for her discoveries in brain-immune interactions and the effects of the brain’s stress response on health, Sternberg wrote Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions.

Not only is Sternberg a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, she founded the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing. Prior to her work at the University of Arizona, she served as chief of the section on neuroendocrine immunology and behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and as director of the NIH-wide Integrative Neural Immune Program.

♢ Full circle with NLM ♢

In a way, as the current Board chair, Sternberg says she’s come full circle. She began working with NLM about 20 years ago.

When she was with the National Institute of Mental Health, Sternberg needed a place to hold a reception for an international conference on neuroimmunomodulation, the science of brain-immune connection.

NLM was the answer.

The foyer of the Lister Hill building would be perfect.

“NLM is—whether scientists realize it or not—the window onto NIH, mainly because, for scientists all over the world, PubMed comes up as the most credible source of information,” she explains. “I realized that most people who were attending the conference used NLM every single day, but didn’t realize there was a physical place where it was located.”

The Library was also an ideal location to create an exhibition. Working with the then newly arrived head of NLM’s History of Medicine Division, Elizabeth Fee, PhD, the Library’s first exhibition. Emotions and Disease, opened in 1996. It used an historical approach to explain the meaning and relevance of scientific developments linking neurophysiology to the functioning of our immune systems.

The conference attendees were impressed, says Sternberg.

But more than that, Sternberg realized it was a way to educate the lay public and key stakeholders about the brain-body connection to disease.

“We launched this high profile, very elegantly designed onsite exhibition. One of the reasons we could do this was because of the amazing collection of historical documents and incunabular texts,” she recalled. “It brought the lay public into the Library and in close contact with concepts of medicine and science.”

formal group photo of the NLM Board of Regents

NLM Board of Regents 2017

Looking back, Sternberg says, “There was a wow factor.”

She points out, “The exhibition was written up in The Washington Post as ‘Best in Washington,’ which provided a vehicle to highlight the conference reports in The Washington Post’s health section.”

Over the years, Sternberg continued providing advice on NLM’s exhibitions.

Beyond the exhibition program, Sternberg served on the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee (LSTRC), which reviews journal titles and assesses the quality of their content.

Then in 2014, after moving to the University of Arizona, Sternberg received an invitation to join NLM’s Board of Regents, and in August of 2017, she became the chair.

♢ Summing up a philosophy ♢

Not only is Sternberg excited about the ongoing strategic planning process, in which the Board is a prominent player, but she is eager to enrich outreach efforts.

“NLM gives vetted, credible, evidence-based answers to health-related questions,” she explains. “How do we get that information out above all the noise? It is becoming even more important than ever to help everyone access credible health information in a direct way.”

Sternberg sums up her philosophy this way: “In my mind, the Library’s main mission is public health through public information.”

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