With Gratitude

NLM Director Patti Brennan poses with her son, Conor, her mother, and her sister

What is it like to be feted for a lifetime of work?

I never imagined I’d have the chance to answer that question, but I found out early last month when I received the Morris L. Collen Award from the American College of Medical Informatics at the annual AMIA meeting in San Francisco.

The accompanying celebration was full of the joy of family and friends. My sister Kathleen brought my almost 90-year-old mom out from Philadelphia, and my son, Conor, joined us from Seattle. As a result, my family got to meet my friends, and my friends met my family, creating a delirious mix of my professional, personal, and family lives over a three-day period. I soaked up the excitement, basking in the love and floating on people’s kind and generous words. The experience left me feeling complete and centered in a way I never had before, as if the intersection of these parts of my life simultaneously anchored and inspired me, reminding me where I’ve come from and the countless steps I’ve taken through a career in nursing, academia, and federal service and highlighting how these many threads have woven together to create the person I am and the work I’m doing today.

formal headshot of Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan with the Collen Award medallion draped around her neck
Patricia Flatley Brennan, Collen Awardee

I also found tremendous joy and satisfaction in the attention the Collen Award brought to the work we do here at NLM and to the remarkable accomplishments of the Library’s previous Collen Award recipients: Don Lindberg, Betsy Humphreys, and Clem McDonald, all of whom were and are exceedingly dedicated to improving health care and biomedicine. Their contributions to the field have helped shape NLM into the trustable resource it is today, and I’m proud to stand in their company.

In fact, part of what drew me here for this phase of my career is to build upon their work providing outstanding, trustable health information in the service of patients and their families. After all, the most important person in the health care process is the patient. He or she is the reason for it all—the research, the training, the technology; the doctors, nurses, and orderlies; the biomedical engineers, informaticists, and medical librarians. We’re all here to improve the health and life of patients.

But there is more to be done.

I will be eternally grateful for the professional recognition I’ve received. The Collen Award is an honor I will treasure, and sharing that honor with my family and friends yielded memories I will cherish for a lifetime. But my work continues, and I’m thankful that it’s here, leading this amazing institution with its almost 1,700 women and men, each serving science and society in their own ways. Thank you all for being a part of my team. The world has never needed our efforts more than it does now.

2 thoughts on “With Gratitude

  1. Well heck YES, a lifetime of work!! And you ain’t done yet, glad to say.

    I’m not just happy about this because of the recognition of you and your work – I’m happy for the same reason I was thrilled that you were chosen for your current post: it means the people doing the choosing value your perspective, because that is what will determine how things play out long-term during your tenure.

    When people in those choosing positions value how you look at important issues, it gives me much greater hope for the future of health and care than if I only looked at the tug-of-war that so often happen in board rooms.

    As I know you know, the great shift underway in healthcare is away from well-meaning paternal guidance and toward patient autonomy and self-direction. It’s a long road, and we both know people who are at the far end and others who are more comfortable way back at the beginning. Perhaps the most important parameter enabling that shift is access to information, and that’s where both your predecessor and you are soooo important to that future.

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