Breaking into the Medical Librarianship Field

By Linda Thuy Nguyen

Are you considering medical librarianship as a possible career choice after graduation? San Jose State University library school students and graduates who are interested in medical librarianship have the option to work in all kinds of settings. They can work in a hospital, academic medical center, clinics, colleges, consumer health resources centers, health information center, government agencies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and many others. For those who are thinking about entering medical librarianship, I would like to provide you five simple tips to help you enter this specific field.

1. Take advantage of SJSU databases
As a current SJSU student, you have unlimited access to all the databases. If you are interested in learning more about the different SJSU health databases, you can explore the PubMed database. In addition, you can try CINAHL, which is a database focused on the nursing profession.   There are many other health databases in the SJSU library‚Äôs website, so take advantage of them before graduating! Getting training in Dialog could be useful, as they contain numerous health databases, such as Gale Group Health & Wellness Database. As a library school student, you can get access to Dialog by taking the online searching (library 244) class. If you already graduated from library school, you can always enroll in classes at a community college and get access to some health databases.
2. Informational interviewing with medical librarians
It is highly recommended that you contact local librarians about the medical librarianship profession. They will be eager to provide you some insight on how to prepare for medical librarianship. If possible, try to speak with more than one medical librarian. Most likely, they will tell you the necessary skills for a medical librarian, such as being able to work under pressure and getting training in specific health databases. They can act as your mentor by helping you with job hunting (e.g. resume, interviewing skills), and sharing their past experiences. The SJSU Career Center provides on-site and online workshops on how to successfully do an informational interview.  
3. Volunteer and internship opportunities
If you would like to get experience in medical librarianship, you can start with volunteering. Consider volunteering at your local hospital. If there are no available volunteer positions at the medical library, you can work at the information desk or health education department. You will still improve your customer service skills, deal with hospital patients, and work with other medical professionals. Volunteering will also build your professional contacts and references.

Another way to get experience is by taking a medical library internship. You can receive 2, 3, or 4 units of school credit. A 3-unit internship requires 135 hours of work in a semester. If you plan on taking a 3-unit internship in the fall or spring semester, you are more likely to work 8-10 hours each week. There are also some post-graduate fellowships and internships for recent graduates who are interested in medical librarianship. You might want to consider applying for the National Library of Medicine fellowship; however only library school graduates who earned their degree within two years can apply.

4. Take classes
Taking classes will be very beneficial if you plan to work in a health or medical library. Although San Jose State University does not have a medical terminology class, you can always take it at a community college. It is better to sign up for the medical terminology class early because they tend to be filled very quickly. If you cannot enroll in a medical terminology at a community college, you can always take it at a local adult education school. Some adult education schools and community colleges have transfer agreements, so your medical terminology class can be added in your community college transcript. You do not need to have a science background, but it would be an asset if you took some classes in the biological sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. If you would like to take the library science 220 course that focuses on medical librarianship, you would need to keep an eye on it because it does not have it every semester.

5. Join Medical Library Association (MLA)
As an SJSU student, you can take webnairs and distance learning classes at a discounted price. You will gain knowledge about the medical librarianship profession and update your skills as an information professional. It is also possible to find mentors through Medical Library Association. There is a search form that helps you find a local mentor who works in the medical librarianship field. There are many other benefits, such as seeking grants and getting discounts at conferences. Joining MLA is another way to improve your professional network.

Linda Thuy Nguyen graduated in December 2010, and was a Science Team intern at San Jose State University. She is currently volunteering for Kaiser Permanente and has started to help out at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Community Learning Center.