Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center
Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
“Teach me how to search!”
Corinne Miller’s interest in becoming a clinical informationist (CI) was sparked by a Morbidity and Mortality conference in 2015. “The residents would present and I enjoyed reviewing their briefs and learning from that,” she explained. “I really liked the bit that dealt with directly informing patient care and learning from what they were doing.”
As a former Vet Tech, Corinne found that the medical terminology she learned in veterinary sciences helped her transition to the human medical field. “Having a science background is half the battle,” she said.
Her time in graduate school obtaining a MLIS, however, left her slightly underprepared for a career as a CI. “I never learned to run a database search in library school, or the strategy behind a systematic review. I was required to learn on the job and do a lot of professional development work on my own or in groups.” How did Corinne overcome this hurdle to become a CI at Northwestern University? Please read the full interview below.
What are your primary responsibilities as a CI?
I round with patient care teams in the Department of Medicine and provide information to answer clinical questions. The CI role, in essence, is to listen in and use our gut (no pun intended) to determine when they need medical evidence.
What does a rounding team look like at Northwestern?
The general medicine team includes one attending, a senior resident, one or two interns, two medical students, and occasionally a documentation specialist or clinical pharmacist.
How do you prepare for morning rounds?
Really, there’s no way to prepare. The closest you get is to understand medical terminology and get comfortable. Part of it is just getting the confidence to speak up.
What advice would you give to a new CI who is eager to help, but afraid to speak up during rounds?
I suspect this is a common feeling among new informationists and propose a study on the incidence of white coat syndrome in new clinical informationists.
All kidding aside, I would remind them that they can only be an asset to the team if they understand what the team needs. Remember learning about the reference interview in school? The more you talk to the team and flush out the clinical question, the better equipped you are to help answer that question.
At Northwestern, do informationists assist research teams as well? If so, how does the value you add differ than in the clinical setting?
Each of our librarians serves as the primary point of contact for certain departments on campus. As such, we work with a wide variety of users. For example, we might teach a student how to use Endnote to format a manuscript or perform a literature review for a team writing a study proposal who wants to ensure the same study has not already been done.
It’s hard to really know how the value differs, since we so rarely get formal feedback from our users. Theoretically, the information we provide in the clinical setting directly informs patient care and/or contributes to team members’ medical knowledge. Our other work can provide value in a plethora of ways. By teaching a student to search PubMed or use Endnote, we save them valuable time on future projects. By helping a team to demonstrate a need for their research, we may have helped them to secure funding for that research.
You mentioned that your training as a librarian didn’t quite prepare you for your role as a CI. What things would you change if given the opportunity to update the curriculum?
I only have two changes to propose, but they are important ones. First, teach me how to search! None of my graduate (MLIS) classes covered subject headings, boolean operators, etc. Fortunately, I opted to enroll in a practicum through my graduate program, and the librarians I worked with introduced me to database searching. I honed my skills through continuing education and experience.
Second, offer at least one class in health sciences librarianship. A student who lacks a background in the sciences could easily be intimidated by this specialized field. Without that educational background or appropriate training during graduate school, finding work in our field can prove challenging.
I understand that you are often working on projects outside of your rounding responsibilities. How do you get involved in those, and can you share any examples?
I love working on systematic reviews. Our level of contribution to a specific review ranges from education and guidance to author level involvement. In the latter case, designing the search strategy is my favorite part. It’s like a puzzle, with an element of coding.
I serve on Galter Library’s Special Collections Committee. Most recently, the committee designed a companion exhibit for a National Library of Medicine traveling exhibit. Our companion exhibits highlight Galter Library’s collections or local history and are often accompanied by Northwestern University expert lectures.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for clinical informationists?
It’s the same challenge that libraries face: proving our value. How do you quantify an informationist’s contribution to a medical team? Can we demonstrate an impact on the quality of care, patient outcomes, etc.? There are definitely groups trying to do just that, but we’re not quite there yet.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy all of the intrigue and intellectual stimulation of a clinical setting, without the responsibility for patient lives and risk of compassion fatigue.
How do you stay current?
Primarily webinars, continuing education courses, the Medical Library Association’s annual meeting, and the occasional literature search.
Last book or topic you read or researched for fun?
Does potty training for toddlers count as fun? No? Fine, I just finished reading Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.