Reflect, Reimagine, Reenergize TOGETHER

Guest post by Patricia Flatley Brennan, Director, NLM; Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations, NLM; and Amanda J. Wilson, Chief of the Office of Engagement and Training, NLM.

Welcome to NLM @ MLA ’21 vConference! This year, for the Medical Library Association (MLA) virtual meeting, we organized NLM’s activities around three themes:

  1. Reflect on the impact of the past year,
  2. Reimagine our work to make what we do better, and
  3. Reenergize by reconnecting with NLM colleagues and embracing the new normal! 

This year offered many opportunities to pause and reflect. We were struck by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global response of lockdowns, personal adoption of public health measures, and more than 1.7 billion vaccine doses already administered worldwide. Our reflections led us to a reaffirmation of the importance of medical libraries as a source of trusted health information and the critical need for work-life balance in everyone’s lives. Like others around the world, we looked on in horror and dismay at repeated episodes of violence and injustice inflicted upon communities of color. We hope that our partners around the country will join the momentum surrounding the NIH UNITE initiative to end structural racism and racial inequalities in the health research enterprise.

The maximum telework posture of NLM and many other industries prompted reimagining our work life now and in the future. We structured many of our NLM @ MLA ’21 presentations to share our experiences of working at a distance, video conferencing, and providing library services during a time when the physical doors of libraries are closed.

We hope that the opportunity to gather in spirit, rather than in person, brings the reenergizing atmosphere that often comes with greeting old friends and meeting new colleagues. We hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunities to gather around professional conversations and social engagement.

NLM at the Medical Library Association 2021 vConference

NLM’s participation at the MLA ’21 vConference began on May 17th and will continue through May 27th. One of the advantages of a virtual symposium is that you’re not restricted to viewing a session once – all NLM sessions will be available online after May 27th.

NLM began this year’s conference with a full day symposium introducing the 2021-2026 Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM). The day started with a celebration of NNLM accomplishments to date, particularly over the last 5 years. This session attracted more than 250 attendees who reflected on where NLM has been. For example, do you know the highest number of regions that the NNLM ever had? Was it 9, 11, or 50? Or, how much outreach funding NNLM awarded to communities in the last year? Over or under $1 million? This session also provided an overview of how the Network has been reimagined for the 2021-2026 cooperative agreement, and is being reenergized though exciting and innovative programming and projects. Find these answers and what else is in store for the Network on the NNLM @ MLA day page!

During last week’s dedicated exhibit time, we hosted 33 one-hour Meet the Experts sessions, involving over 50 speakers covering a wide range of topics including data science practice, PubMed and PubMed Central, tools for scholarly publishing, the 2020-2021 Associate Fellows cohort and projects, intramural training at NLM, consumer health resources, health data standards, and many more – whew! The “NNLM Reading Club: A Vehicle for Starting Health Conversations” took top marks for being the most popular session.

We also provided special highlights of NLM’s response to COVID-19 in the Exhibitor Solution Showcase. NLM’s Dina Demner-Fushman, MD, PhD, Valerie Florance, PhD, Yanli Wang, MD, PhD, Amanda Wilson, MSLS, and Robin Taylor, MLIS, presented on topics such as TREC-COVID, a competition applying national language processing to resolve challenges related to COVID-19; the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics projects designed to speed COVID-19 testing, and to identify new ways of detecting COVID-19 in people and in the environment (think of an electronic nose or waste water sampling); the Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection Initiative, now known as ReCOVer; and how common data elements are making the data acquired through COVID-19 studies harmonized and available for researchers in the future. 

Teresa Zayas Cabán, PhD, NLM’s Assistant Director for Policy Development, presented updates and priorities from NLM and NIH at the Legislative Update session, and, not-for-profit Stop Foodborne Illness executive, Mitzi D. Baum, MS, delivered remarks on the topic of public health and food safety as the keynote speaker for this year’s Joseph Leiter NLM/MLA Lectureship. You can take a deep dive into the NLM@MLA’21 website where you can find links to the 2021 Leiter Lecture recording; NLM and NNLM On-Demand Presentations, Lightning Talks; Immersion Sessions; biographies for NLM and NNLM staff participating in the Meet the Experts sessions; and more!

As we close out our participation in the MLA ’21 vConference, our last don’t miss events are:

  • Take a Break with Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan on May 26 at 6 pm (CT). Join Dr. Brennan for a signature trivia evening break. Join Us!
  • The ever-popular, annual NLM Update, May 27 at 10:15 am (CT), this year featuring NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD; Associate Director for Library Operations Dianne Babski; and Acting Director, Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, Olivier Bodenreider, MD, PhD.

Reflect. Reimagine. Reenergize.

As we reflect on our experience at the MLA ’21 vConference, our interactions with colleagues has provided even more insight to reimagine our work to make what we do better, and reenergize as we embrace the new normal!

Which element of this year’s theme do you relate to most? Why?

(left to right)
Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations at NLM
Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, NLM Director
Amanda J. Wilson, Chief, Office of Engagement and Training at NLM

Diversity Catalysts: Attracting Talent to NLM and NIH

Guest post by David Landsman, PhD, Senior Investigator, Computational Biology Branch in NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information and Kathel Dunn, PhD, Associate Fellowship Coordinator, NLM

NLM is committed to attracting, developing, and retaining diverse library and scientific talent. Professional development at NLM yields completed research, publications, and entrée to a network that extends to NIH, the academic community, and industry at large. In the collective management of NLM training programs, we are aware of the ability of an NLM fellowship or residency to advance a person’s career. Our challenge is recruiting diverse talent to NLM and ensuring that our training environments contribute to their success. We’re also keenly aware of the power of being selected by NLM, and we take our role in exercising that power seriously by developing recruitment strategies that extend beyond our own networks, tapping into the networks of our trainees, and in pipeline programs.

In 2014, NLM joined an NIH-wide initiative within the Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) to enhance the scientific workforce. One of its programs, Diversity Catalysts, engages NIH Institutes and Centers to develop and pilot new, evidence-based approaches to enhancing diversity throughout NIH.

Through the Diversity Catalysts program, NLM has participated in shaping an implicit-bias education module that has been rolled out to all staff across NIH. We’ve integrated portions of the SWD-developed recruitment search protocol into our own recruitment strategies. We’ve put this training to good use in the hiring mechanisms and practices within the training programs at NLM, as well as mechanisms to hire highly qualified principal investigators and training staff.

Recruiting for the future is now.

The trainees, who will join us in 2036 for the 200th anniversary of the founding of NLM, are currently 10 years old. They were born on the cusp of the United States becoming a majority-minority country. They spent their tenth year at home, living through a pandemic. Furthermore, our future trainees will come to us stamped by the technology of online education and a freedom gained through science and technology development. We’re engaging in discussions about how to welcome them at NLM. We’re looking for ways to capture and engage around the unique and differing experiences of the pandemic: some of our future trainees may have been at home participating in online learning; others may have lost a year of education completely.

What we’re doing now is keeping track of our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts by reviewing our recruiting and interview practices to ensure that they are free of bias, promoting trainee attendance at diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings offered by NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education, and continuing our practice of conducting regular individual and cohort debriefs to learn how we can improve our programs.   

NLM stands with NIH to end structural racism in biomedical research.

Through the NIH’s UNITE initiative, we are working together to establish new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identify and dismantle any policies that may harm our workforce and our science. We actively support trainees’ participation in the UNITE initiative and have noticed genuine interest among our trainees in wanting to engage and be a part of the institutional change.

NLM offers scientific training programs for high school students, bachelor’s students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and fellowships for librarians, historians, and history-minded researchers from a range of disciplines, from the fields of medicine, anthropology, and literature, to philosophy, law, and the arts, and many more. We promote the opportunity to study at NLM, as well as share the successes of our trainees. We use the visibility afforded to NLM to highlight trainees and believe that the power of attraction plays an undeniable role in bringing talent to NLM. However, that’s not enough. We know we must do the intentional work of making connections, extending invitations, and following up with potential candidates. We must let them know what we see in them: future scientists, librarians, historical thinkers, and leaders.

Throughout the next 15 years, as 2036 grows near, we will continue to build on our ability to attract and retain diverse candidates.

Our challenge remains to advance a strong institutional commitment to attract a diverse workforce to the NLM administrative, librarian, and scientific programs with increased outreach and, by example, extending our experience to the education of NLM staff in making best practice hiring decisions.

David Landsman, PhD serves as one of NLM’s representative to the NIH Diversity Catalysts. He is also a senior investigator at NLM with a special interest in the merging of results obtained in computational biology analyses with those derived from experiments in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics

Kathel Dunn, PhD serves as one of NLM’s representative to the NIH Diversity Catalysts. She is also NLM’s Associate Fellowship Coordinator where she is responsible for oversight of the Associate Fellowship Program curriculum, recruiting for the Program, and providing mentorship and guidance for the Associate Fellows.

Nursing and Libraries – Powerful Forces in Motion

This month, NLM joins the Nation in celebrating Black History Month. Libraries play an important role in ensuring equity of access to information. From my career as a nurse, I know that libraries are important vehicles for delivering trusted information. To celebrate my dual allegiances to nursing and libraries, in this post, I am tuning into the voices of Black nurses to learn what libraries mean to them.

Black nurses have made huge contributions to the health and well-being of people and are foundational to the health care system as we know it today. Rhetaugh Dumas, PhD, RN, a psychiatric nurse and academic leader, once served as the deputy director of the NIH’s National Institutes of Mental health (1979-1981). Another psychiatric nurse, Chester A. Woffard, III, MSN, RN was a leading thinker in suicidology, particularly addressing the needs of nurses coping with suicide among colleagues. May L. Wykle, PhD, RN, devised critical intervention strategies for caregivers, with particular attention to self-care needs among minority elders. Loretta Sweet Jemmott, PhD, MSN, RN, is an expert in health promotion and created much of the evidence base for HIV risk-reduction interventions. I’ll bet every one of these nurses used (and still uses) the library often!

I asked some nurse colleagues to reflect on the role libraries have played in their professional and personal lives – and look what I learned!

Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, RN, FAAN | Senior Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer | Cedars-Sinai Health System

Libraries have been my constant go-to place for knowledge and skills to support any task I took on. It was important to me to join a profession that would enable me to read, learn, and be of use to other humans — nursing was the answer to my prayers. Reading in the library and collecting journals from around the world was a way to learn about life, humans, and nurture my sense of purpose to be of use to others. Libraries are full of stories about human caring; they are a safe place to gain knowledge and to explore and imagine life’s possibilities. I treasure my memories of being in the aisles of public and private libraries in schools, after school, and now accessing the wise words and secrets held by libraries electronically.

Sheldon D. Fields, PhD, RN, CRNP, FNP-BC, AACRN, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN | Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Research Professor | The Pennsylvania State University College of Nursing

As a healthcare professional who is also a researcher, educator, and health policy specialist, I have leveraged the resources of the NLM many times. As an HIV prevention research scientist, I rely heavily on the biomedical literature databases such as PubMed to keep up to date on the research literature and for dissemination of my own work. As a nursing educator, the NLM training resources and courses on how to use various databases, as well as resources such as MedlinePlus and DailyMed for drug information have been most beneficial in my work with nursing students. The NLM supported National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology is also a reliable source for all things health policy related. Having such reliable, up to date, and accessible resources from the NLM is critically important to all facets of my career. 

Paule V. Joseph, PhD, MS, FNP-BC, CTN-B, FAAN | Lasker Clinical Research Scholar Tenure Track Investigator | NIH Distinguished Scholar | Acting Chief, Section on Sensory Science and Metabolism Unit (SenSMet) | Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research (DICBR), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) | Biobehavioral Branch, National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)

During my PhD program, I realized how critical the library and librarians were in my scientific journey. The librarian at the UPenn Biomedical Library — who was also a nurse — played a crucial role in my PhD trajectory. It was the first time I had met a nurse who was also a librarian, and her intimate knowledge of nursing and the scientific literature helped me a lot. In my role as Principal Investigator, the librarians at NIH have been integral to the development of my lab as I have developed my clinical protocols and conducted literature searches for systematic reviews and meta-analysis. I have even co-authored papers with them. In addition, they are always available to train and share new tools to streamline the research process. The librarians have been very helpful in teaching the fellows and students in my lab about databases and guidelines to conducting reviews. When COVID-19 started and reports about COVID’s toll on taste and smell began to emerge, the NIH librarian (who knew what my lab studied) reached out and helped us tremendously by curating the literature on that topic. I am still using those resources as I develop a COVID-19 taste and smell long-hauler study.

Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN | President and CEO | National League for Nursing

As a nurse working on my doctorate, I had the opportunity to spend a summer in Washington, DC working with a Senator on many health-related issues. During that time, the Library of Congress became my refuge as I worked on my dissertation section on leadership and mentoring. Resources from the Congressional Library helped me understand the power of mentoring and recognize that nurses were sometimes left behind in terms of the mentoring process. Throughout my career, I’ve been inspired by the graciousness and generosity of spirit in people saying, “I see something in you that perhaps you can’t see in yourself.” But I know that I have been able to recognize this through what I learned at that beautiful, wonderful place called the Congressional Library. The library is where the literature revealed secrets to say, “Look at how fortunate you are to have been mentored all of your life.”

Monique Powell, MSN, RN | Nurse Manager, Cardiac Intensive Care Unit | Children’s National Medical Center

I think back on my freshman year at Howard University and one of the most memorable moments occurred in the Founders Library. I remember the first time I walked through the doors I felt this incredible sense of belonging and history. The library was named Founders in honor of the 17 men that help to found Howard University. This building holds an incredible collection of history for African Americans, and I felt privileged to be able to sit down at the tables and walk through the stacks of books. I had an assignment to research how the African American community has interacted with the medical community. As I researched this topic and used the microfiche machine to view documents, papers, and letters, I remember feeling that I had access to history in a way that I never had before. I remember coming across a personal check signed by Ruby Dee and Ozzy Davis sent to the Howard University School of Medicine to support the students — a piece of history that still moves me so many years later. My experience that day has stayed with me and encourages me to continue the work I am doing in health care and for my community. I am a proud graduate of an Historically Black College and University and feel honored to be able to serve my community as a nurse.

Asia L. Reed MSN, RN, CPN | Professional Development Specialist | Nursing Education and Professional Development | Children’s National Medical Center

The library has helped shape my educational destiny in so many ways. I have appreciated the academic library both online and in-person throughout my undergraduate and graduate nursing programs. The library offers free educational resources, caters to specific research needs, provides space for meeting with others, and supports personal and professional growth. Having recently graduated with my master’s degree in nursing education, the library contributed to my success by providing access to a variety of education resources and online databases that supported my needs. The articles I chose were directed toward my learning styles, which had a positive impact on my academic achievements. As a novice nurse educator, the library continues to play an important resource in my career path and for my pediatric nurse residents.

Reneè Roberts-Turner, DHA, MSN, RN, NE-BC, CPHQ | Director, The Department of Nursing Science, Professional Practice, and Quality Magnet® Program Director | Children’s National Hospital | Assistant Professor of Pediatrics | The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

What I always loved most about being in the library is the quiet and calm I felt as soon as I walked through the doors. During my senior year of college, my mentor (who was an employee within the University of Virginia Wise Library) heavily influenced my decision to use my bachelor’s degree in Biology to pursue Nursing instead of medicine. I spent many hours reading about healthcare careers, in various books and journals, reading articles using the microfiche machine, and concluded Nursing was the profession for me. I also spent a significant amount of my time at Marymount University’s Emerson G. Reinsch Library, where I was introduced to the Washington Research Library Consortium and benefitted from the ability to borrow materials from other academic libraries in the Washington, DC area. As I pursued my doctoral degree via online classes, I felt the same satisfaction with the electronic library format. Although I’m not physically in the library, whenever I log on to the electronic library, I still feel a sense of quiet calmness.

Linda D. Scott, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FNAP, FAAN | Dean and Professor | University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing

Those who knew me as a child can attest that I always wanted to be a nurse. My earliest professional inspiration was Florence Nightingale, whom I mimicked as I provided nursing care to my dolls and even tried to replicate her uniform by wearing a blanket that served as a cape. My information came from books through my neighborhood Bookmobile. An astute Bookmobile librarian noted my hunger for learning and encouraged me to explore more about nursing at the public library. That’s where I learned a more complete history about the nursing profession and discovered a wider representation of nurses, including some who looked like me. Learning about Mary Eliza Mahoney and Mary Elizabeth Carnegie, and later Hattie Bessent and Rhetaugh Dumas—along with other nurses of color whose footprints are evident in the profession—turned my emulation of the nurses I admired into a belief in the possibility for myself. Library resources have not only been invaluable to me throughout my education and career, but they helped me see myself on the “path we tread.”

Ora Strickland, PhD, RN, FAAN | Dean and Professor | Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences | Florida International University

I remember my parent’s library. It had encyclopedias, short stories, poems, and even medical books. Whenever any of us got sick, my mother would run to her medical books, and I took notice. All those books piqued my interest in becoming a nurse. Throughout my career, I’ve found that university libraries serve nurses very well because the librarians are good. I’ve been fortunate to frequent university libraries where librarians collaborate with the schools of nursing to set up library committees to review the library holdings in health care and related fields to make sure that their holdings are adequate and address the needs of nursing students. One library I have visited often throughout my career is NLM. I’d spend hours and hours at NLM; it’s a wonderful place. I also met some real scholars when I was at NLM. That’s what I miss most with the rise of the internet – because a library is also a community meeting place. It’s a place to meet other wonderful scholars and some of those scholars can end up being collaborators.

Retired Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, PhD, RN, FAAN | Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer | University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth

During my graduate education, particularly my doctoral program, libraries became my lifeline and my “go-to” place to help me problem solve and find resources that I couldn’t identify myself. Librarians gave me ideas that I hadn’t thought of and became my alternate support system outside of my department – and outside of my profession. Libraries have been very integrated into all the work I’ve done and the positions I’ve held throughout my career. Librarians deserve a lot of credit for my academic and professional success.

Mia Waldron, PhD, MSN-Ed, NPD-BC | Nurse Scientist, Nursing Science, Professional Practice & Quality | Children’s National Hospital | Assistant Professor of Pediatrics | George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Libraries were a steady feature in my life. I spent childhood summers in the Brooklyn Public Library reading fiction; I worked as a clerk in the Cardozo Law Library as a teen; and decided on the sorority to join based on histories read at the Schomburg Library. The decision to change my college major from pre-medicine to nursing was made after poring over career data found in the health sciences library over 30 years ago. The importance of knowledge, as a nurse, has proven invaluable throughout my career. In most instances, my first instinct is to turn to a library.


What a journey! Libraries are shaping the future of nursing and health care, and these nurses give us a glimpse into how all libraries, including the NLM, resonate with the dreams of nurses and provide support and skills to move forward in practice.

I am grateful to my colleagues for sharing their perspectives, and so proud of what the merging of these two forces — nursing and libraries — bring to the health of the world!

How have libraries influenced you and your career?

Biomedical Informatics and Health Equity: Using One to Improve the Other

Guest post by Kevin B. Johnson, MD, MS, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and Chair of Biomedical Informatics, and Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

I started Informatics in the Round for a lay audience seeking to understand the world of biomedical informatics. There are other podcasts out there about the latest and the greatest in research, but I really wanted to create a space where people could learn more about the field and hear from leaders who continue to inspire me.

Earlier this month, #ShutDownSTEM gave me the opportunity to bring together academicians and biomedical informatics leaders to outline what our role as informaticians should be in the fight against racism in all its forms. One of the leaders who joined me in that discussion and encouraged me to share this with all of you was NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD.

I often refer to Dr. Brennan as the newly minted matriarch of our field. Her contributions to this recent discussion were, not surprisingly, incredibly insightful. The entire conversation can be found here.

As chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt and an informatics evangelist, I want — no, I need — to share some highlights from this conversation in the hope of broadening the discussion. There is much we haven’t done that is clearly within both our skill set and reach.

Click on the image above to listen to the full episode.

How Bioinformatics Can Support an Equitable Future

I started the conversation by setting the stage for a discussion of how biomedical informatics can play a role in the fight against racism. As a medical specialty, the field is about aggregating and transforming health data to create knowledge, improve lives, and build a world with better health outcomes.

We’ve been an equal opportunity field that thinks of technology as the great equalizer when it comes to health care. But we’ve missed a key opportunity to embrace equity along with equality. In an equitable world, the benefits of informatics would not simply be made available to all equally; rather, we would recognize, embrace, and adapt solutions to the unique needs of the many in our society who cannot type, who don’t speak English, who fear giving out private information to the government because of historical missteps, or who have jobs that challenge our traditional care models.

To respond to the realities of our built environment, our field needs to understand where the people are and what they need. From a technology standpoint, this requires designing models that reflect more than just the average care needs. We need to build technologies based on an understanding of how diverse people are, as opposed to how similar we are. We need to think about the presumptions that we make, often unconsciously, and how our presumptions get built into technologies.

A challenge that we often face in the field of informatics is that we spend a lot of time on the technology side and don’t pay enough attention to the people side. Some call this the “softer side,” and it’s often pushed to the side with the intention to address it later. Unconscious bias can show up in very subtle ways, such as sending out a confirmation email and presuming that there will be a response or assuming that a patient even has a personal email address. And we often picture the nuclear family when we think about relationships.

We need to immerse ourselves in diverse stories and relationships so that we can see how technology fits into people’s lives and how to create tools to meet their needs. For example, how do we help young-adult graduates of the foster care system collect and summarize their past medical histories from what could be a dozen different parents? 

As we think about how health care systems are built and experienced, let’s take into consideration factors that impact who is represented at all levels of those systems. Our actions are rarely nefarious and are quickly corrected when called out as biased, in most cases. But, unfortunately, groups that lack diversity don’t have stakeholders who easily notice when actions leave underrepresented groups behind. Where is our diversity in science?

During our conversation, we heard difficult messages from two younger Black faculty. One expressed fear that the issues that might propel them into a career in data science and informatics were not issues that would be rewarded through extramural funding and promotion. Another was convinced that the perception of academia as slow to embrace change, skeptical of new ideas, and mired in red tape was off-putting to people of color who historically have seen those behaviors lead to discriminatory actions. 

Those are tough pills to swallow, but things we need to confront directly.

Throughout the conversation, we examined our privilege and how we can break down barriers and eliminate anti-Black racism with the goal of equity in mind. There is no single answer, but the best thing we can give to young people and to our colleagues is the capacity to be brave. We also discussed how people who experience privilege must be willing to use that privilege to build bridges and close the gap. We need to continue to be voices that say these issues matter.

As we strive for justice and meaningful change, we need to better inform ourselves about the perceptions of underrepresented groups that negatively affect their career choices. We need to narrow the research funding gap and examine the peer-driven study process, including biases in the review process and in publishing.

The National Library of Medicine uses grant mechanisms (G08, R01) to develop informatics to reduce health disparities and supports research that examines how information can be presented in culturally relevant ways. NLM’s data science work, including COVID-19 research, encourages researchers to develop techniques that illustrate the causes of and solutions to the health disparities that exist in the world today.

I encourage you to listen to the full discussion to hear more from our thoughtful panelists.  

And I leave you with this challenge: What will you do today, or this year, to build bridges and close the gap on your team, in your workplace, and in your community?

Dr. Johnson received his MD from The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and his MS in Medical Informatics from Stanford University. He is an internationally known scholar and educator in clinical informatics, having served as a board-certified pediatrician and consistently funded researcher as well as chief information officer during his tenure at Vanderbilt.  

In addition to leadership roles in the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Board of Pediatrics, the American Medical Informatics Association, and the National Academy of Medicine, Dr. Johnson serves as chair of the 
NLM Board of Scientific Counselors and sits on the NIH Council of Councils.

What Does Black History Month Mean to Me?

Each year, in February, the United States celebrates Black History Month, commemorating the achievements of African Americans and recognizing their central role in the history of our country. While some advocate for yearlong awareness of issues that are often highlighted during Black History Month — such as voting rights and access to health care — I personally find that setting aside a specific time to reflect, as a nation, on these important matters can help prevent them from getting lost in the everyday conversation.

As I think about how NLM can better serve African Americans, I know we must take into account the fact that their health care experiences, which include issues of access and outcomes, frequently differ from those of other Americans. I find two initiatives at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), addressing the greater risk of maternal mortality among women of color and the health challenges related to heart disease and stroke experienced specifically by African Americans, particularly inspiring.

As I prepared this blog, a surprising insight, at least to me, was the connection between cardiovascular risk and maternal mortality. African American women in the United States have a pregnancy-related mortality ratio (number of pregnancy-related deaths for every 100,000 live births) of 42.8, which is more than three times the rate of white women. Furthermore, the high ratio of maternal mortality among African American women cuts across all socioeconomic levels. While there appear to be various factors that influence pregnancy-related deaths, cardiovascular disease, particularly risk factors such as high blood pressure, is implicated in many cases.

What can NLM do to foster health equity among African Americans, particularly African American women?

We can support research and open access to the literature that provides the foundation for developing clinical guidelines and informing clinical care. Key NLM health disparities and minority health information can be found on our MEDLINE®/PubMed® Search and Health Disparities & Minority Health Information Resources page. We developed this page in collaboration with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and maintain the content to ensure we’re providing the most up-to-date resources available. While accessible to anyone, this page is primarily for health care professionals and researchers and provides the following:

  • A link to a comprehensive PubMed search on minority health and health disparities
  • The complete details of the search, so users can see the strategy used and can add specific terms, such as maternal mortality and hypertension
  • A list of links to additional NLM resources, NIH resources, and other federal resources on this subject, as well as to associations, foundations, and research centers

The Library also has information for patients and their families. Our world-famous MedlinePlus® online resource provides, in plain language, direct-to-consumer information (in English and Spanish) about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues. For example, a search using the terms pregnancy, African American, and high blood pressure returns almost 100 short articles and fact sheets that discuss how to recognize and manage high blood pressure during pregnancy. Sometimes a MedlinePlus search provides a pathway to unanticipated, but related, health information, such as the link between heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The goal of reducing maternal mortality related to cardiovascular problems among African American women requires a concerted effort linking basic science, clinical care, and patient self-management. It’s also critical to develop strategies across the full spectrum of prevention, including primary prevention of cardiovascular problems among African American women; secondary prevention that supports the early diagnosis of women at high risk for pregnancy-related cardiovascular complications; and tertiary prevention that includes aggressive care interventions before, during, and immediately after childbirth to better manage the problems of women who experience cardiovascular-related complications during pregnancy. 

The effectiveness of NLM is centered around our development and distribution of scientific literature that leads to biological discoveries and supports clinical care strategies; our curation of massive genomic and molecular databases that support scientists trying to isolate genetic precursors of disease and identify promising targets for pharmacological intervention; and our outreach to clinicians, patients, and family members about the vast professional and consumer-focused resources available to promote health and self-management. 

Let me know what else we can do to better serve the health needs of all African Americans and improve pregnancy-related health outcomes for African American women. Together, we can make the health of African Americans a year-round focus.