You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated across the globe to recognize women’s rights and gender equality. This year’s observance encouraged all people to #BreakTheBias and envision a world that values and celebrates diversity.

Bias results from the complex interplay of experience, cognition, learning, and stigmatization. It shapes the way people make decisions and influences one’s appraisal of what constitutes good and bad. Bias can sometimes be helpful as it provides a quick way to motivate social discourse. However, bias often leads to unfair or discriminatory treatment. The most insidious aspect of bias is that it frequently happens outside of one’s conscious awareness. The only effective way to disrupt the dangerous influence of bias is to persistently raise awareness, challenge assumptions, and enrich the visual cues around the world that highlight the unique and powerful differences between people. Placing oneself in groups and teams with others who are different from ourselves is one starting point.

I’ve been inspired by a phrase I’ve heard several times recently: You can’t be what you can’t see. This phrase is often used to identify the multiplicative impact of creating a diverse workforce. This is pretty inspirational to me! I have often experienced efforts to bring women into leadership positions or to open scientific opportunities to people of color as a strategy that served the individual person — which in itself has many benefits. For the individual, expanded career opportunities provide meaningful work and the opportunity, not only to use one’s talents to advance an enterprise mission, but also gain financial rewards. The teams surrounding these individuals benefits too. Making sure that leadership teams are comprised of people of different genders and who have different life experiences improves our collective thought and creativity. It is important to recognize that these benefits do not arise solely because teams are made up of people who look different or sound different from each other but requires the intentional application of managerial actions that celebrate differences and help individuals build bridges between ways of knowing.

The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Lonnie G. Bunch III, attributed this quote to Sally Ride in an article he wrote about the opening of the Sally Ride exhibit for a Smithsonian Magazine article titled How the Smithsonian Is Honoring Remarkable American Women. In his words, the presence of women in the space force not only benefited Dr. Ride and her crew but also served as a visible symbol to everyone, particularly girls and young women, that there were people who looked like them enjoying fulfilling careers in space.

True appreciation of the diversity of people requires that we look beyond their physical characteristics to see their real uniqueness. One’s culture, family customs, language, and upbringing imbue individuals with mannerisms, mental models, and motivations, few of which have any physical manifestation. So, if we want to enrich our work groups with colleagues with differences in the cadence of speech or adherence to traditions, we will have to find a way to make those aspects visible, and in turn, engaging for all.

Jeff Reznick and Ken Koyle, respectively the Chief and Deputy Chief of NLM’s History of Medicine Division, published a free visual history of NLM and its beautiful buildings. In a brief video featuring some of the pictures from their book, you can take a tour of NLM’s nearly 200-year history. What’s important to pay attention to as you view these amazing images is the early and persistent commitment to creating a diverse workforce evidenced though the pictures of people present throughout the modern history of NLM.

As NLM prepares its plan to join with the rest of the NIH to dismantle structural racism and make the NIH a welcoming workplace for people of all racial identities and ethnic heritages, looking back helps us understand that what we could see in our history allowed us to be in our future — may we continue to grow as a welcoming workplace serving scientists and society.

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

At the Intersection of National Library and Public Health Weeks: Celebrating NLM’s Many Roles

Guest post by Robert Pines, MS, Writer/Editor, and Sarah Ashley Jolly, MPH, Writer/Editor and Graphic Designer (Contractor), NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) Office of Communications and Public Liaison.

This week marks both National Library Week (April 3-9) and National Public Health Week (April 4-10) and we are pleased to recognize this intersection of NLM’s work. While the importance of each observance on its own is clear, their connection may not be as obvious. From our vantage point in the NLM communications office, however, we see the many roles in which NLM staff members and contractors are engaged, and how libraries and public health are linked to create a healthier world. As such, we are pleased to share just how NLM embodies this overlap in observances as a center for information innovation that supports and advances public health.

NLM is the world’s largest biomedical library and engaged in activities as diverse as our global community of users. NLM staff members and contractors are motivated by a desire to serve scientists and society, and are involved with training, community engagement, literacy campaigns, information dissemination, and more. Public health is at the core of NLM’s mission, and it drives the work we do as a library that delivers information directly to stakeholders.

“…to assist the advancement of medical and related sciences and to aid the dissemination and exchange of scientific and other information important to the progress of medicine and to the public health.

-NLM Authorizing Language

Inspired by many of the daily themes of National Public Health Week, we spoke with six colleagues representing different parts of NLM to hear — in their own words — how their work in a library contributes to public health.

Racism: A Public Health Crisis

“NLM has been an active participant in the NIH-wide UNITE Initiative, which seeks to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and broader scientific community. We’ve worked to recruit change agents from across NLM to advance racial and ethnic equity through a commitment to reform our own policies, practice, and procedures. This effort is rooted in a recognition that we have a responsibility to serve as exemplars for the change we wish to see.”

Maryam Zaringhalam, PhD
Data Science and Open Science Officer, NLM Office of Strategic Initiatives

Learn about the NIH UNITE Initiative and diversity at NLM.

Public Health Workforce: Essential to our Future

“Trainees who come to NLM have a passion for advancing healthcare, and we provide an environment where they can apply their unique computational skillsets to address public health questions. Among other contributions, their work here has improved our understanding of different diseases and created systems that help other researchers and clinicians better serve their patients.”

Virginia Meyer, PhD
Training Coordinator, NLM Intramural Research Program (Contractor)

View training opportunities at NLM.

Community: Collaboration and Resilience

“NLM cultivates long-term partnerships with communities to help address challenges and opportunities around health equity and information access. For over 30 years, for example, the Environmental Health Information Partnership (EnHIP) has enhanced the capacity of minority-serving academic institutions to engage with environmental health information. EnHIP has had a great impact with almost 150 community-based projects focused on awareness and usage of NLM resources.”

Amanda J. Wilson 
Chief, NLM Office of Engagement and Training

Read about the NLM Office of Engagement and Training and its work with EnHIP.

“The Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) is committed to providing equitable access to high-quality health information. We make NLM tools and resources available to those who need them in order to build a knowledgeable, resilient health care workforce and public. Through NNLM’s work, individuals are able to make informed decisions about their health, research and public health professionals have the resources they need to make change, and the public health of the nation is improved as a result.”

Martha Meacham, MLIS, MA
Project Director, NLM Office of Engagement and Training

Discover the work of NNLM.

World Health Day: Health is a Human Right

“At MedlinePlus en Español, our team of translators facilitates access to content from NLM using thoughtful translations that consider the breadth and variability of Spanish-speaking audiences. We are proud to enable access to high-quality health information by reducing language barriers and bridging cultural gaps so consumers can make informed health decisions.”

Javier Chavez 
Team Lead, MedlinePlus en Español

Explore MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus en Español.

Accessibility: Closing the Health Equity Gap

“Accessibility is critical to closing the health equity gap. NLM promotes accessibility by ensuring NLM’s videos include audio description, captions, and proper color contrast so that blind, sight-impaired, or deaf audiences can find and learn about NLM’s various tools and resources.”

Andrew Wiley 
Video Producer, NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison (Contractor)

Photo of Andrew Wiley

Watch our audio described videos and read about accessibility at NLM.

As echoed in the words of our colleagues, NLM staff members and contractors are dedicated to providing stakeholders with the resources and information needed to create a healthier world. Their work at the intersection of these two observances demonstrates the essential nature of libraries to public health.

We hope you will join us in celebrating National Library and Public Health Weeks. Connect with NLM to learn more about the roles that we play.

Robert Pines is a writer/editor in the NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison who works on web and digital projects. He also co-chairs the NIH Social Media Collaboration group. Robert holds a Graduate Certificate in Front-end Web Development from the Harvard Extension School, a Master of Science in Management: Public Relations from the University of Maryland University College, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Business Administration from American University.

Sarah Ashley Jolly is a full-time contractor and serves as a writer, editor, and graphic designer in the NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison. She is passionate about creating communications materials to distill important and complex topics that are easy to understand, engaging, and visually appealing. She holds a Master’s in Public Health from Emory University with a certificate in maternal and child health, along with two Bachelors of Arts degrees in history and anthropology from Mississippi State University.

Recognizing Women in History All Year Round

Women in history — and women making history — featured in this post.
From left to right in the top row: Mary Lasker, Elizabeth Blackwell, Hope Hopps, Florence Sabin, Margaret Pittman, Patricia Palma, and Selma DeBakey. Middle row: Faye Abdellah, Deirdre Cooper Owens, Rosalind Franklin, Inez Holmes, Alice Evans, and Lois DeBakey. Bottom row: Maxine Singer, Virginia Apgar, Barbara McClintock, Sarah Stewart, Bernadine Healy, and Rana Hogarth.

Guest post by Susan L. Speaker, PhD, Historian for the Digital Manuscripts Program of the History of Medicine Division (HMD) at the NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM), and Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, Chief of HMD at NLM.

One important role of NLM staff is to research, curate, explain, and make available historical collection materials. In doing so, our historians, librarians, archivists, and exhibition specialists prioritize the history of underrepresented groups, stories of advocacy and change, and materials that demonstrate the relevance of history to current events. Although this Women’s History Month will soon conclude, we recognize women who have made a difference in the history of health care and medicine — as well as women who make history — year round.

NLM’s collections span ten centuries, encompass a variety of digital and physical formats, and originate from nearly every part of the globe. For many years, through a constellation of research, curation, and public programs connected to these collections, we have shared the stories of women — healers, naturalists, midwives, nurses, physicians, scientists, artists, advocates, and patients.

These individuals have included — among many others — Faye Abdellah, who became the first nurse to achieve the rank of Rear Admiral, Upper Half, a two-star rank, in the U.S. uniformed services, as well as the first nurse and woman in the 200-year history of the United States Public Health Service to hold the distinguished position of Deputy Surgeon General; Virginia Apgar, the neonatologist who developed the Apgar scoring system for evaluating newborns; and Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree from an American medical school, overcoming many obstacles and establishing a foundation for American women physicians. We have also featured Selma and Lois DeBakey, icons of both medical literature preservation and communications; Bernadine Healy, the first female Director of the NIH, and Inez Holmes, World War II veteran and nurse who trained at the Piedmont Tuberculosis Sanatorium for the treatment of African American patients in Virginia.

Among the others we have recognized through our curation are geneticists Barbara McClintock and Maxine Singer; chemist and crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray diffraction images of DNA revealed its helical structure; embryologist, cell physiologist, and public health administrator Florence Sabin; and philanthropist Mary Lasker, whose public health advocacy helped to spur a vast expansion of NIH.

Through our curation we have also brought forward historical knowledge about many groups of women and their wide-ranging experiences, expertise, interests, and roles in medicine and science. These groups have included women of the Frontier Nursing Service, women who composed unique, handwritten “receipt” books in which they noted, tested, and revised formulas for household remedies for common medical problems, as well as women physicians and nurses in the armed services of World War I and World War II. We have also told important stories about women who changed the face of medicine through their leadership and expertise, and those who confronted domestic violence and improved women’s lives.

We have also shown how women’s historical presence is sometimes obscured in larger accounts and must be made visible through careful reading and piecing together textual and visual evidence. Such curation enables us to reveal the stories of women who worked in labs at NIH, like Hope Hopps, as well as lab workers who worked in the California State Hygiene Lab in Berkeley just before World War I, and medical students who gathered tuberculosis patient data at Johns Hopkins University at the turn of the last century. NLM is also steward of the papers of early twentieth-century women bacteriologists whose important work is not widely known, including Alice Evans, Sarah Stewart, and Margaret Pittman. We collect and make these papers available to interested investigators, preserving their stories for future research.

Along with our many efforts focused on highlighting the experiences and voices of women in our collections, we also amplify the voices of today’s women historians, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, who have studied our collections to advance their research. This month, we welcomed to our NLM History Talk series Patricia Palma, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Historical and Geographic Sciences at the University of Tarapacá, Arica, Chile. Dr. Palma spoke about her research on homeopathic therapies in Peru during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, drawing on unique materials held by our institution. Last month, we welcomed Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD, the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine & Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Cooper Owens spoke about women whose stories of enslavement are part of the history of gynecology in the United States. In April, we will welcome Rana A. Hogarth, PhD, Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who will speak on how people of African descent became targets of eugenic study during the early decades of the twentieth century. 

Notably, many of these curatorial efforts are themselves brought you by the women of NLM —archivists, librarians, historians, and exhibition and technical specialists. So, as we work year round to recognize women in history and connect with women making history, we also recognize each and every one of our colleagues who are themselves making history through their public service here in the world’s largest biomedical library!

Dr. Speaker has been Historian for the Digital Manuscripts Program since 2002. She conducts research, selects documents, and writes in-depth contextual narratives for the Profiles in Science project, and she carries out other historical work for HMD including articles, blog posts, presentations, and oral histories on a variety of topics. She is also the historical consultant for the NLM Web Collecting and Archiving Working Group. Dr. Speaker is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

As Chief of the NLM HMD, Dr. Reznick leads all aspects of the division in cooperation with his colleagues and has over two decades of leadership experience in federal, national-nonprofit, and academic spaces. As a cultural historian, he also maintains a diverse, interdisciplinary, and highly collaborative historical research portfolio supported by the library and based on its diverse collections and associated programs. Dr. Reznick is author of three books and numerous book chapters and journal articles, including, as co-author with his colleague Kenneth M. Koyle of “History matters: in the past, present & future of the NLM” published by the Journal of the Medical Library Association in 2021.

Learn more about many more women in medical history—and women making medical history—through the NLM HMD blog Circulating Now, Profiles in Science, @nlm_collections on Instagram, and the free NIH Videocast archive of NLM History Talks

Feedback Sought on the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan Framework for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

This blog post is by Marie A. Bernard, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity; Shelma Little, Acting Director of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Julie Berko, Director of the NIH Office of Human Resources. It was originally posted on February 4 on the NIH Office of Extramural Research Open Mike blog. We encourage you to read it and submit comments and feedback on the framework for the NIH-Wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan by April 3.

We are pleased to announce that the framework for the NIH-Wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Strategic Plan was released (NOT-OD-22-061). Your input on the framework as the plan is developed is encouraged. Feedback will help us ensure that DEIA principles continue to be embraced and integrated across NIH going forward.

We strongly believe that an inclusive and diverse pool of highly talented individuals is key for the country to remain a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation (see these posts for more). This means we must actively consider factors that address DEIA principles and appropriately embed them within NIH and the wider scientific community. Embracing this DEIA vision will enhance our ability to drive biomedical innovation and serve an increasingly diverse US population.

The NIH-Wide DEIA Strategic Plan strives to clearly communicate our DEIA vision. It will align with the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan released last year, and encompass our ongoing initiative to address structural racism in biomedical research as well as build on the wider federal effort to expand DEIA across the workforce.

The scope of the plan covers accomplishments, needs, opportunities, and challenges related to DEIA within the NIH workforce, its structure and culture, and our supported research. The main objectives are to:

  • Implement organizational practices to center and prioritize DEIA in the workforce
  • Grow and sustain DEIA through structural and cultural change
  • Advance DEIA through research

What are the potential benefits or drawbacks to this framework? Are there priority areas missing? Which best practices and policies are likely to foster positive culture change? What barriers stand in the way? How should DEIA be defined for the purposes of this effort? What metrics measure progress?

We welcome your comments and feedback on the framework. Please send them electronically by April 3, 2022.

If you’d like to learn more about the background, planning process and draft framework for the Strategic Plan, please consider attending an NIH-hosted webinar on March 29, 2022, from 3:30 to 4:30pm ET.  Registration is required and questions for consideration may be submitted to prior to the webinar.

NIH appreciates and values your feedback on bolstering DEIA at the agency and throughout the biomedical workforce.

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