Alum Connie Schardt Heads Medical Library Association

Unable to find satisfying work with her Art History undergraduate degree, Connie Schardt decided to enroll in SLIS in the late 1970s with the hope of improving her career prospects. Her hunch paid off. Today Schardt is the 2009-2010 president of the Medical Library Association (MLA) , which represents more than 4,000 health sciences informational professionals, and she works with physicians and clinicians from around the world in her post at Duke Medical Center Library in North Carolina.

“If anything, my background shows that you don’t need a degree in science to become a medical librarian,” she said. “You can bring yourself up to speed with the medical terminology by learning the literature and taking advantage of professional continuing education.”

As current MLA president, one of Schardt’s top priorities is to make sure the organization offers professional development and continuing education courses to keep members’ skills sharp. She also wants to get members involved in leadership positions at an earlier stage in their careers and set up a way for members to “virtually” attend the MLA’s conference next May if they can’t afford to the trip to Washington D.C.

While in graduate school, Schardt became intrigued by medical librarianship while interning at the medical library at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. Her first full-time job after graduation involved working on a grant to establish hospital libraries across Idaho, where only a couple of the 52 medical centers in the state had libraries. During her 11 years in the job, Schardt’s efforts helped several hospitals establish libraries of their own.

Tired of the bone-chilling Idaho winters, Schardt started a new job in the early 1990s as Director of the Medical Library at Rowan Regional Medical Center in central North Carolina. She saw firsthand the impact a medical librarian can have on a patient’s treatment. After travelling to a rural hospital to give a doctor an article on recent research regarding one of his patient’s medical conditions, the physician thanked her by saying “this will probably save my patient’s life.”

Today, Schardt is teaching physicians how to research and critically evaluate articles on their own as part of her job as education coordinator at Duke Medical Center Library. Duke puts a priority on following “evidence-based medicine” practices, which essentially means doctors review the literature regarding treatments that have been proven to have the best outcomes and incorporate this information into their clinical decisions. Schardt’s work is integrated into that philosophy, and she co-directs Duke’s national workshop on evidence-based medicine. Over the past eight years, the weeklong program has hosted clinicians from around the world who learn how to teach and practice evidence-based medicine, which includes refining searching skills, critically appraising studies for validity, and applying results to patient care.

“I would urge anyone interested in librarianship to consider medical librarianship,” Schardt said. “It’s focused, relevant and it literally does help to save lives.”