NLM Associate Fellows: A Blast from the Past and Present

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Associate Fellowship Program is for early career librarians who are interested in becoming leaders in health sciences librarianship. Most Associate Fellows move on to careers in library science outside of NLM, but some stay.

NLM in Focus asked the eight former Associate Fellows who are still at NLM about their favorite memories and cool moments from their Fellowships and careers.

One librarian wrote about the excitement of having a replica of the space shuttle in the lobby of NLM’s Lister Hill Center. Another shared how she feels goose bumps representing NLM at international meetings. Seeing Vice President Al Gore demonstrating an NLM resource and go off script delighted another associate. The daughter of a medical librarian speaks of NIH as hallowed ground.

Read on to learn about these eight amazing former Associate Fellows who work at NLM.

Joyce Backus | 1985-1986 Associate

headshot of Joyce Backus

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
My year occurred during NLM’s Sesquicentennial, so first we had to learn what that word meant. One of the memorable things was shadowing Lois Ann Colaianni, NLM associate director, and going to NASA headquarters with her because NLM was planning to celebrate the occasion by having a life-size replica of part of the space shuttle in the Lister Hill Lobby.

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
I was a reference librarian in the Public Services Division in the beginning of the personal computer age. I was responsible for the onsite reading room version of the Grateful Med software patrons used to access our journals list and catalog.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
Working with NLM and Library Operations leadership to implement the many initiatives to move NLM’s Strategic Plan forward.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
I’m lucky to have had a lot of cool moments, but the biggest honor I currently have is representing the efforts of our NLM staff and contractors when I update the Medical Library Association membership at their annual meeting.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
Through my projects, the Fellowship helped me effectively assess programs and learn how to work with senior staff. The curriculum gave me an understanding of how NLM works and serves so many communities effectively; I believe we still do that.

Renata McCarthy Geer | 1993-1994 Associate

headshot of Renate Geer

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
The most memorable aspects of the Associate Fellowship year were the exposure we received to NLM services and cutting-edge research programs and the opportunity to meet and work with people, both in NLM and across the country, who generously shared their knowledge and support.

My earliest mentors were Dick West of NLM’s Extramural Programs, whom I will always remember and still miss today, and Mark Frisse, who was then director of the medical library at Washington University in St. Louis. Both gave me insight into possibilities that existed for medical libraries as the information landscape and technologies continued to evolve. Sue Levine, who was NLM’s budget officer, exposed us to the relationship between NLM and Congress. After giving us a brief overview of the work, Sue suggested that we observe Congressional appropriations hearings firsthand to really see how budgeting is done, so off we went a few days later to observe a hearing led by US Representative Leon Panetta. These were a few of the many experiences I could not imagine getting elsewhere.

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
I was fortunate to become a member of the NCBI user support group after completing an associate project with NCBI. In addition to providing technical support for users of NCBI resources from across the globe, my responsibilities included writing the minutes of the NCBI Board of Scientific Counselors meetings, working on the production of GenBank and Entrez CD-ROMs, and staffing the NCBI exhibit at scientific conferences.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
Twenty-five years after completing my NLM Associate Fellowship program, I am still at NCBI, and there has never been a dull moment. A constant flow of new data types combined with an innovative scientific environment have led to the creation of many new resources over the years that help users mine the data to make new discoveries. I am a member of the group that focuses on protein function, protein classification, and three-dimensional structures, originally led by Steve Bryant, recently retired NCBI Principal Investigator, and now led by Aron Marchler-Bauer. My position involves testing the resources, contributing to user interface design, and writing technical documentation at multiple levels of granularity to serve users ranging from novice to expert. That work can only be done in close collaboration with the scientists and software developers, whose dedication, generosity, and collegiality continue to make the work interesting and rewarding.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
There are so many that it’s difficult to choose, but perhaps the one that stands out most was watching David Lipman, who was director of NCBI, and Vice President Al Gore launch PubMed. David had some demo searches prepared and ready to go, and Al Gore went off script. The dynamic between the two had us rolling.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
The NCBI project, led by Barbara Rapp and Dennis Benson, that I did as part of the Associate Fellowship Program *became* my career. (Thank you, Barbara and Dennis!) The project explored the uses of molecular biology information resources by researchers and librarians at universities, with a particular focus on some early NCBI resources. Reaching beyond the original scope of the project, I began to correspond and collaborate with a broader group of librarians and library-based scientists across the country who were early leaders in the development of bioinformatics support services in their institutions. Together, we formed the MLA Molecular Biology and Genomics Special Interest Group (SIG). Over the next dozen years, we continued to collaborate on the development of bioinformatics programming for MLA conferences, the creation of bioinformatics education programs for library staff nationwide, and publication of journal articles about library roles in bioinformatics. As the SIG grew, we welcomed new members who brought wonderful ideas and energy and who now continue to carry the early efforts forward in many new ways. The NLM Associate Fellowship program, therefore, not only laid the ground for decades of interesting work, but also for collaborations that led to enduring friendships.

Lidia Hutcherson | 2004-2005 Associate

headshot of Lidia Hutcherson

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
Meeting people with high ideals who were enthusiastic and dedicated to their work. I was fortunate to attend the extended six-month, forty-hour week version of the Fellow’s curriculum and to meet the people behind NLM projects. The indexing workshop led by Marina Rappaport was one my favorites.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
Daily link XML files indexing, the issues that stem from it, and how to resolve them.

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
My first position at NLM was with the serials section in the technical services division.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
Attaining an understanding of the foresight that helped establish NLM’s mission and that the mission is vast, noble, complicated, and timeless.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
The program provided me with insights into new ways in which information is disseminated and discovered and with a good understanding of the different groups that support NLM databases. I make use of this knowledge in my current position at NCBI.

Kathy Kwan | 1999-2000 Associate

headshot of Kathy Kwan

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
I was in a group of seven, a relatively large class. We were all in a room on level B1 of Building 38, next to the NNLM office. This helped to foster our bond! We were a diverse group in terms of age, work experience, and ethnic background. Amazingly, we worked really well together! I learned from everyone in the group on both a professional and personal level.

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
Coordinator of the LinkOut project, a service that allows users to link directly from PubMed and other NCBI databases to a wide range of information and services beyond the NCBI systems.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
I am a part-time contractor to the PMC International project now, mostly providing technical expertise to the project and to our collaborator, Europe PMC.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
My Associate spring project, where I developed a prototype of the LinkOut Library Submission utility that turned into a real NLM product. The utility allowed libraries to send holdings information easily to PubMed to connect users to the holdings that they subscribed to. Consequently, more than 3,600 libraries from over 80 countries are now participating in LinkOut.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
It got me the job at NLM, and it has turned out to be a fulfilling career for 17+ years!

Patrick McLaughlin | 2008-2009 Associate

headshot of Patrick McLaughlin

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
My favorite aspect of the Associate Fellowship year was meeting and learning from NLM staff and senior leaders during the curriculum phase and having the opportunity to work with teams from different divisions of the Library on several projects. An especially memorable activity during the year was visiting the Whitman-Walker health center and seeing patrons use MedlinePlus and other NLM consumer health resources.

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
I began my career at NLM at the end of my Associate Fellowship year in a role supporting users of RxNorm, the standard drug terminology produced at NLM. I wrote technical documentation, provided training, and answered questions for users implementing RxNorm in their applications and tools. My role grew to include support for other NLM products, including AccessGUDID (medical device information), DailyMed (drug information), and the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS).

What keeps you busy in your current position?
I’m now in a supervisory role, overseeing quality assurance and user services for many of NLM’s health data standards products, including AccessGUDID, DailyMed, NIH Common Data Element (CDE) Repository, RxNorm, SNOMED CT, UMLS, and Value Set Authority Center (VSAC). Learning more about CDEs, which is a new project for my team, thinking about how our health data standards activities fit into the NLM Strategic Plan, and keeping my team happy keeps me busy.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
My coolest NLM moment occurred first as an Associate Fellow, when I had the opportunity to work with Nancy Sorden in the MeSH section to create a new MeSH descriptor: Septal Occluder Device. Later, as an NLM employee, I had the opportunity to work with Tammy Powell and Chris Hui, also in the MeSH section, to create several standardized drug names within RxNorm. MeSH and RxNorm, which are used throughout the US in literature databases, electronic health records, and more, help provide access to health information for consumers, researchers, and health professionals. My contributions, however minor, played a role in that.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
The Associate Fellowship Program exposed me to many different people, job types, and projects, including the health data standards work that I’m involved with now. I met so many great people at NLM and worked on several exciting projects. I was so inspired by NLM’s mission and the work that it does that I didn’t want to leave. . .and I never did!

Anna (Harbourt) Ripple | 1991-1992 Associate

headshot of Anna Ripple

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
Memorable moments from my 1991-92 Associate Fellowship Program year were participating in the year with the three other members of my cohort: Jeff Bridgers, Leona Coffee, Denise Radow; and being one of the first Associate Fellowship cohorts to attend the annual meeting of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
My first position continued at NLM for the next three years in the Computer Science Branch of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, where I worked on UMLS and the COACH Expert Searcher System. Under the supervision of Dr. Larry Kingsland (and others, including Betsy Humphreys), I was involved in the development of the DOS-based Metathesaurus Browser and applying the UMLS knowledge sources to improve Grateful Med search efficacy.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
I’m in my 28th year at NLM and still in the Lister Hill Center. Currently, I’m busy being a member of Data Science @NLM Team to help NLM implement a data science training program for all NLM staff. This is a cross-NLM initiative, directed out of Library Operations, with colleagues from the Office of the Director, NCBI, and the NLM Strategic Plan Implementation Council to transform the NLM workforce.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
My coolest NLM moment was in 2011 when I presented NLM’s research on structured abstracts in MEDLINE (spanning 25 years) to an audience that included Dr. Brian Haynes, whose Ad Hoc Working Group for the Critical Appraisal of the Medical Literature developed a proposal for more informative abstracts in 1987.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
The Associate Fellowship Program’s impact on my career was substantial. When I landed at NLM in 1991, I knew that NLM was the only place I wanted to be—the Mother Ship. Why would I want to work anywhere else?! Attending the 1991 AMIA meeting solidified my interest and deepened by enthusiasm to explore the possibilities for librarians working in informatics environments.

Suzy Roy | 2011-2012 Associate

headshot of Suzy Roy

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
For the first half of the Fellowship year, you attend “curriculum” where you learn about NLM resources and services. While I was excited to learn everything, especially how MEDLINE/PubMed and BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) were created and maintained (clearly I’m a former neuroscience geek!), I was pleasantly surprised to learn not just about NLM resources but also the people behind the scenes of those services. I was struck by how dedicated the NLM staff were to their products and to working at NLM. The generosity of the staff in taking time to meet with us for additional learning sessions or even just a coffee was greatly appreciated. Their passion helped me decide to stay on as an NLM staff member.

Also I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a memorable aspect of my year was meeting the other Fellows—Jessi Van Der Volgen, Michele Mason-Coles, and Bethany Harris, and of course our mentor Kathel Dunn. They have become lifelong friends!

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
I’m still in my first position post-Fellowship. I’m currently the NLM SNOMED CT Coordinator.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
Everything SNOMED CT and health data standards!

SNOMED CT is an international clinical terminology standard and is one of several required standards for health data exchange in the United States. NLM is the National Release Center for SNOMED CT, meaning we produce, maintain, disseminate, and coordinate the efforts and licensing of SNOMED CT on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. We are required to release the US Edition of SNOMED CT on March 1 and September 1 of each year, so a big part of my job is to ensure the production and release of this product happens on schedule. Additionally, my job involves coordinating and assisting our clinical content author (who does the actual modeling of the terminology), mapping team (for our SNOMED CT to ICD-10-CM map), developers (on SNOMED CT tooling products), and our US constituents who use the terminology. Customer assistance ranges from helping users on their implementation use cases and assisting on understanding the terminology to facilitating harmonization between local standards with the international terminology. I am also involved with standards policy work at the national and international level. One day I might be involved with other US government agencies (FDA, ONC, CMS, VA) or government committees (NCVHS) on various projects, and the next day I might be on international calls with my colleagues at SNOMED International or other Ministries of Health working on an international collaborative project. Things are pretty busy and sometimes I’m not sure what time zone I’m in, but it’s a very interesting and rewarding job!

What was your coolest NLM moment?
Representing the United States at my first SNOMED CT Member Forum Representatives meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. It really hit me when I looked around the room at all of the representatives from Ministries of Health from around the world sitting behind flags of their home countries. When I went on the record to introduce myself as Suzy Roy, US representative from the National Library of Medicine with my own US flag in front of me, I got little goose bumps. It was a really cool moment professionally and personally. While representing NLM and the US is now part of my normal day job, my work continues to make me feel proud and honored to have this amazing job.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
I can honestly say I would not be in my position if it weren’t for the NLM Associate Fellowship program. I entered librarianship with the intent to be a librarian for scientists who focus on data statistical analytics. Terminologies and health data standards development and maintenance were not a path I had envisioned for my career. While I still love traditional librarianship, the Fellowship opened my eyes to areas and domains that go beyond what I had originally set out to do. The Fellowship taught me professionalism and leadership, and fostered personal growth. To this day I’m still humbled and honored that NLM accepted me as a Fellow, and I hope that I can continue to pay it forward with my current work and service and will continue to promote this unique and rewarding Fellowship!

Joanna Widzer | 2007-2008 Associate

headshot of Joanna Widzer

What was particularly memorable about your Associate Fellowship year?
I remember two things about my Fellowship year: the incredible number of fascinating things I learned that year and the lifelong friendships I made. I was surrounded by people who nurtured my curiosity about medical librarianship, and indeed, about the world in general. I am still close friends with the Associates from my cohort, so much so that two members of my cohort became my son’s Godmothers.

What was your first position at NLM after the Fellowship?
I took the opportunity to train at Vanderbilt University during my second year in the Fellowship. This allowed me to gain practical experience as a medical informationist. I then took a full-time position on the National Library of Medicine’s web team.

What keeps you busy in your current position?
Trying to learn more about my field! I’m a user experience researcher, which means that I study how people use NLM’s web products. The field changes rapidly so I’m constantly absorbing information and thinking of new ways to improve our products and services.

What was your coolest NLM moment?
It’s not a single moment; it happens every time I look at our front entrance and see the words “National Library of Medicine.” My mother was a medical librarian; from a young age I understood this campus as a “hallowed ground” of sorts. I’m honored to be part of the work that we do.

What was the impact of the Associate Fellowship Program on your career?
I wouldn’t be where I am without it. I was able to choose the right path in my career because the Associate Fellowship program allowed me to “try my hand” at different aspects of medical librarianship before committing myself to a narrow aspect of the field. I’m now proud to be a UX researcher and to work in agile software development.

 

Compiled by Kathel Dunn, PhD, Associate Fellowship Coordinator at the National Library of Medicine

One thought on “NLM Associate Fellows: A Blast from the Past and Present

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