What is the Role of a Mentor?

Guest post by Karmen S. Williams, DrPH, MBA, Assistant Professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, and Meera G. Subash, MD, Assistant Professor and Division Quality Officer for the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Texas Health Science Center, McGovern Medical School.

“Everyone, at every point in their career, has the potential to be a mentor as well as [to] seek a mentor. It is the combination of being and doing in mentorship that makes it such a rewarding and important part of a professional career.”

Medical informatics pioneer and NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, recently spoke these words when she joined us for a special podcast hosted by the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA)—a crossover episode between For Your Informatics, led by the Women in AMIA Initiative, and ACIF Go-Live, directed by the AMIA Clinical Informatics Fellows.

Bryan McConomy, MD, began our inaugural episode with an introduction to medical informatics, highlighting the early work of Dr. G. Octo Barnett and his team’s development of the MUMPS integrated programming language at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1960s. Being a relatively young field, we can look to the trailblazers who first used computers to augment clinical decision-making and improve health care discovery and delivery. We pay homage to the rich tapestry of innovative leaders and educators, such as Homer Warner, MD, PhD; Reed Gardner, PhD; Clement McDonald, MD; Margo Cook, RN; Lawrence Weed, MD; and Edward Shortliffe, MD, PhD, to name a few.

We started the History of Medical Informatics joint podcast series with those two AMIA podcasts with the understanding that we need to connect our past with the present. This ongoing series catalogs this history through the eyes of pioneers in the field of health informatics. By highlighting how historical events merge with contemporary topics of interest in health informatics, we intend to strengthen the bridge for new and upcoming professionals both in and outside of informatics.

In our episode titled “History of Medical Informatics – Mentorship” with Dr. Brennan, we focus on how mentorship was established in a field that, until recently, was virtually nonexistent. Dr. Brennan was not only our first guest on the joint series, but she was also featured in a March 2020 episode of For Your Informatics titled “Training the Next Generation of Informaticians,” which also offers valuable information on mentorship. She has been a full-circle guest by highlighting the past, present, and future of mentorship in health informatics.

Dr. Brennan will also be our keynote speaker at this week’s 2022 AMIA Clinical Informatics Conference, which will give us an opportunity to reflect on the real meaning of mentorship. What is mentorship? How did health informatics pioneers build mentorship in a new and novel field? What is the role of a mentor?

Dr. Brennan recalls some of the best parts of her mentorship experience, including having the freedom to explore, engage with like-minded individuals, establish trust, push boundaries beyond your starting point, and open new doors. Mentors are there for your failures in life, for the deeply embarrassing moments, and to help pick you up when you hit a bump in your career.

However, not all mentorships are created equal. There are some that are lifelong, while some are short term. Some aren’t always mutually beneficial, while others are mutually uplifting. Some mentors come from other fields, while others may be in the same field. The commitment to mentorship may be formalized or just a passing activity.

The style of mentorship can also vary. Some may bring a mentee into a research group to work side by side with them while some may only have periodic conversations. Either way, the mentor must be ready and willing to go through the process.

We’d like to share some wisdom we’ve received over the years: seek out people for a cup of coffee and find someone with whom you can share your successes and challenges. This is important because not all skills are learned in the classroom. For example, academicians need to know how to interpret faculty governance, engage with management, and position research and teaching. Dr. Brennan points out that “these things are difficult to learn on your own, and that’s where mentors can come in.”

The point is that mentorship must be purposeful and built on the trust needed to guide the direction of mentees’ careers and important life choices. It is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Mentorship in any arena is pertinent to career development, but it is especially valuable in groundbreaking fields like health informatics.

What is the best advice you’ve received from a mentor?

Headshot of Dr. Karmen S. Williams.

Dr. Williams completed a post-doctorate fellowship in public and population health informatics at Indiana University and Regenstrief Institute, where she focused on systemic informatics integration. Dr. Williams serves as the director of AMIA’s For Your Informatics podcast, which features individuals at all career stages to reveal the diverse world of biomedical and health informatics professions. She is a member of the AMIA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee; Women in AMIA Pathways Subcommittee; and AMIA Dental Informatics Working Group.

Headshot of Dr. Meera G. Subash.

Dr. Subash received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and her medical degree from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. She continued to University of California San Francisco to complete both her Rheumatology and Clinical Informatics Fellowships. She is Epic Physician Builder certified, and her interest area is implementing and evaluating health IT and electronic health record tools to improve patient care in rheumatology and ambulatory care.

Gearing Up for 2023 Part II: Implementing the NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy

This blog post is by Lyric Jorgenson, PhD, the Acting Director of the NIH Office of Science Policy. It was originally posted on May 12 on the NIH Office of Science Policy Under the Poliscope blog. We encourage you to read it and submit comments and feedback on the draft supplemental information to the NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing: Protecting Privacy When Sharing Human Research Participant Data by June 27.

Sequels are all the rage these days.  I figure if Marvel can make endless “Avengers” movies, I could start making blog sequels.  Back in the beginning of the year, I wrote Part I of this blog series about how NIH is working to implement the new NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy (DMS Policy).  I mentioned at that time that additional resources were forthcoming.

I should note that when we started to receive comments on what was to become the NIH DMS Policy, one thing in particular stood out to us.  Many commentors told us it would be helpful to have clear information on how to protect the privacy and respect the autonomy of participants when sharing data.  Now, we all know that cliffhangers build anticipation, so without further delay, I want to share with you some of the tools NIH has been working on to answer that call.

First, if you have seen the Avengers movies, you likely will have noticed that they tend to introduce a new villain that the team needs to battle with either new tools (think of OSP with Thor’s Stormbreaker axe) or the help of new superheroes like Captain Marvel. While not exactly a new villain, the lack of consistent consent language to facilitate secondary research with data and biospecimens is certainly a challenge many of our stakeholders have raised and one that we thought we could help address.

NIH has a long history of developing consent language and, as such, our team worked across the agency – and with you! – to develop a new resource that shares best practices for developing informed consents to facilitate data/biospecimen storage and sharing for future use.  It also provides modifiable sample language that investigators and IRBs can use to assist in the clear communication of potential risks and benefits associated with data/biospecimen storage and sharing.  In developing this resource, we engaged with key federal partners, as well as scientific societies and associations.  Importantly, we also considered the 102 comments from stakeholders in response to a RFI that we issued in 2021.

As for our second resource, we are requesting public comment on protecting the privacy of research participants when data is shared. I think I need to be upfront and acknowledge that we have issued many of these types of requests over the last several months and NIH understands the effort that folks take to thoughtfully respond.  With that said, we think the research community will greatly benefit from this resource and we want to hear your thoughts on whether it hits the mark or needs adjustment.

When reviewing the document, please bear in mind that the main purpose is to provide researchers with information on:

  • Operational Principles for Protecting Participant Privacy when Sharing Scientific Data
  • Best Practices for Protecting Participant Privacy when Sharing Scientific Data
  • Points to Consider for Designating Scientific Data for Controlled Access

Comments on the draft will be accepted until June 27, 2022, and full information and how to submit a comment can be found here.

Finally, every sequel needs a twist ending! In November 2021, NIH published a request for comments on the future directions of the NIH Genomic Data Sharing Policy.  We are still reviewing the many points and perspectives that were raised, but while we consider next steps, the comments we received are now available on the OSP website.  Okay, so maybe that twist wasn’t as big as, say, Darth Vader revealing he is (spoiler alert) Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s still pretty good for the science policy world.

With a little more than half a year left until the implementation date of the NIH DMS Policy, we will continue to provide updates and resources over the next several months.

MLA ’22: NLM as an Engine for Innovation and Discovery

Guest post by Amanda J. Wilson, Chief of the NLM Office of Engagement and Training (OET), and Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations.

NLM is excited to participate in the annual Medical Library Association (MLA) conference MLA ’22: Reconnect, Renew, Reflect, held virtually from April 27 to May 2 and on-site in New Orleans from May 3 to 6.

Information on how NLM products, services, and programs support innovation and discovery is available at NLM @ MLA’22. We encourage to you visit the NLM Technical Showcases on May 5 for a PubMed update with Amanda Sawyer, an introduction to NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy from Dr. Lisa Federer, and a PubMed Central update and information about NIH preprints with Katie Funk. The NLM Update on May 6 with Dianne Babski, Amanda Wilson, and Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Project Director Martha Meacham will include the latest activities and be followed by an interactive Q&A.

If you missed the April 28 session, check out the NNLM Day @ MLA: National Update page to hear about NNLM members’ work and accomplishments over the past year and to learn how the regions took advantage of their new configuration, partnerships, upcoming activities, and available opportunities. For example, the NNLM Center for Data Services hosted a session to help professionals implement the NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy, with concurrent sessions from the NNLM Training Office and NNLM Public Health Coordination Office. NNLM Day will reconvene in November 2022, so be sure to let us know your topics of interest.

MLA, which comprises more than 400 institutions and 3,000 professionals, is one of NLM’s key stakeholder groups that inform our products, initiatives, and services. MLA’s annual meeting offers NLM the opportunity to introduce new products and initiatives, get feedback on our services, and explore ways to better support the medical library community. As an NIH institute and a national library, NLM continually adapts to changes in the research ecosystem, including data standards, scientific developments, technological advancements, and the evolving norms of how we operate together.

As a catalyst for innovation and discovery, NLM is committed to equipping health science information professionals and the public at large with tools, platforms, and the ability to conduct today’s data-intensive research and community outreach. Please visit NLM @ MLA’22 to learn how you can become part of this partnership as we develop health information solutions and joint programs to support the future of health information.

Ms. Wilson coordinates engagement, training, and outreach staff from across NLM to elevate NLM’s presence across the United States and internationally. OET is also home to the Environmental Health Information Partnership for NLM and coordinates the Network of the National Library of Medicine.

Ms. Babski is responsible for the management of one of NLM’s largest divisions, with more than 450 staff, who provide health information services to a global audience of health care professionals, researchers, administrators, students, historians, patients, and the public.

Translating Research into Health Information You Can Trust

Guest post by Griffin P. Rodgers, MD, MACP, Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at NIH. Dr. Rodgers hosts the weekly Healthy Moments Radio Broadcast, that offers tips to audiences on how to prevent and manage the various diseases within NIDDK’s mission.

If a loved one tells you that you’re perfect, you can probably spot the potential bias quickly, right? Identifying a trusted source isn’t as easy when you’re trying to find information on the internet.

Having access to a wide variety of health information online has changed the way people seek information and make decisions about their well-being. With so many websites and apps providing health content, how can you determine what source of information and content is trustworthy and accurate? This can be difficult.

As the largest funder of investigator-initiated and peer-reviewed medical research, NIH is a good place to start your search for reliable health information. Communicating what we learn from our extensive medical research is at the heart of the health information you will find on the NIDDK website. Our research areas include:

  • Diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases
  • Liver and other digestive diseases
  • Nutrition disorders
  • Obesity
  • Kidney, urologic, and hematologic diseases

Diabetes, obesity, and chronic kidney disease (CKD) are chronic diseases that are connected and affect many people. Our free health information is informed by the research we fund and conduct to find better ways to prevent, treat, and cure diseases.

A landmark NIDDK-supported study called the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) and Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study (DPPOS) has helped us provide tips about how to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes, use diabetes medicines including metformin, and how to avoid or manage the array of health problems related to diabetes.

Our type 1 diabetes health information includes findings from the NIDDK-funded Diabetes Control and Complications Trial and a follow-up study, that together showed keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible slows the onset and progression of kidney, eye, and nerve damage caused by type 1 diabetes.

We also shared what we learned studying weight-loss (bariatric) surgery in adults and youth in content about weight-loss surgery. The Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS) and Teen-LABS studies advanced our understanding of the risks and benefits of weight-loss surgery in adults and adolescents who have obesity. We are still studying the long-term health outcomes after surgery.

Kidney research supported through our Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) study has guided the development of health information about factors that cause CKD to worsen in adults or increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease. NIDDK, along with other NIH Institutes, also supports the Chronic Kidney Disease in Children (CKiD) study, which has helped us understand the causes of CKD in children and how it affects a child’s health and development. NIDDK’s health information about kidney disease in children offers parents, caregivers, and youth an overview of kidney disease and how to treat it.

Another example of how we translate research discoveries into health information for the public is NIDDK’s research on viral hepatitis, which led to the development of many of the liver topics in our health information pages. NIDDK funded and conducted liver studies have led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus, a vaccine for hepatitis B, improved treatments for hepatitis B and C. You can also find information about many diseases and disorders that are less common, but can have a profound impact on the people affected, such as Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.

We offer health information in English and Spanish. To help ensure that our audiences can easily find, read, and use our information, we review the content for scientific and clinical accuracy and plain language. To reach people where they are, we also make our health information available through MedlinePlus Connect, a free service of NIH’s National Library of Medicine (NLM), which links electronic health record systems and patient portals to NIH information.

NIDDK continues its mission to combat disease and disseminate health information anchored in our research to improve public health. I invite you to visit the NIDDK website to learn more about our research and to read and share our health information.

Dr. Rodgers has served as NIDDK Director since 2007. As a research investigator, he is widely recognized for his contributions to the development of the first effective therapy for sickle cell anemia. Dr. Rodgers serves as a chair, co-chair, and member of numerous high-level trans-NIH and Department of Health and Human Services scientific and administrative committees, including the NIH Common Fund program, “Nutrition for Precision Health,” powered by the All of Us Research Program, the NIH Obesity Research Task Force, and the Accelerating Medicines Partnership.

Funding Announcement: NLM Encourages Diversity by Expanding Educational Opportunities

Guest post by Meryl Sufian, PhD, Chief Program Officer, NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) Division of Extramural Programs.

Biomedical informatics and data science are exciting fields with careers that are in great demand and will continue to grow. As these areas of research have expanded, it is clear that individuals from racial and ethnic minorities and women are underrepresented. A diverse and inclusive workforce provides many benefits to advance science and discovery, such as robust learning environments, public trust in research, and incentives for encouraging underserved populations to participate in and benefit from health research.

The NIH Research Education Program (R25) supports research educational activities that complement other formal training programs in the mission areas of the NIH Institutes and Centers. NLM recently announced RFA-LM-22-001 (Short-Term Research Education Experiences to Attract Talented Students to Biomedical Informatics/Data Science Careers and Enhance Diversity [R25 Clinical Trial Not Allowed]). This funding opportunity seeks proposals from institutions interested in creating educational programs and research experiences that will recruit talented students from diverse backgrounds to pursue degrees in biomedical informatics and data science.

Please join us on April 13 at 11 am ET for a technical assistance webinar. Applications are due by May 31, and full details about the R25 funding opportunity are available at RFA-LM-22-001.

Encouraging diversity remains an ongoing challenge that must be examined at every level of the educational pipeline. NLM’s new R25 program addresses this issue, in particular the transition from undergraduate to graduate education where science and engineering students from underrepresented groups tend to leave the research enterprise. At the postsecondary level, students need exposure to opportunities and role models in fields that require computational ability. The R25 program will provide students with experience in cutting edge biomedical informatics and data science research, offer enriching mentorship experiences, and prepare students to enter doctoral programs in these fields.

Increasing diversity in the biomedical and data science workforce is complex and requires expanding opportunities in primary and secondary education, awareness, and access to mentorships. NLM is optimistic that the R25 initiative is a good first step to address the diversity and pipeline issues, and more importantly, that you will join us in this endeavor. NLM welcomes applications from institutions and organizations who will provide a supportive environment and are committed to increasing the diversity of the biomedical informatics and data science workforce.

Dr. Sufian joined the NLM in 2021 and most recently served as a Senior Science Advisor to the Director at the NIH Office of AIDS Research. Prior to this position, Dr. Sufian held various programmatic positions across NIH including as a Senior Program Director for the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and Program Director at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Her first position at NIH was as a Program Director for the National Cancer Institute where she managed and provided oversight for the evaluation of research initiatives

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