Student Pat Benefiel Pursues Medical Librarianship with Help from Professional Association Scholarship

Student Pat Benefiel received a scholarship from the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona (MLGSCA) in April 2011, which will help support her final semester of MLIS studies and her explorations in medical librarianship.

Benefiel discovered an interest in medical libraries while taking LIBR 220: Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines: Medical Librarianship with SLIS Lecturer Charles Greenberg in Spring 2010.

“Medical librarianship is valuable, worthwhile, and intellectually challenging,” said Benefiel, who currently works as a Library Technician. “Skills in medical librarianship can be particularly useful for public librarians, especially in a poor economy where people have inadequate medical insurance and care. Public library patrons often have health information needs, and they turn to librarians for help.”

To augment her MLIS courses and build her professional network, Benefiel conducted several informational interviews with local medical librarians and learned about the field.

“Medical libraries are often small, with one librarian and a few paraprofessionals,” said Benefiel. “The medical librarian in charge makes major decisions on his or her own, and is responsible for doing administrative paperwork, selecting and ordering journals, and dealing with interpersonal and interdepartmental issues. Having management skills is really important.”

For Benefiel, using powerful medical reference databases to find information quickly and accurately for medical practitioners is one of the highlights of the job. “However, it takes a lot of practice to be able to search effectively,” she said.

Benefiel gained first-hand experience and practice through an internship at a medical college library in Fall 2010. She learned about the internship opportunity through the SLIS Internship Sites database and through her connection with the medical library’s director, who occasionally substituted at the public library where Benefiel works.

The director also led Benefiel to apply for the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona’s (MLGSCA) annual scholarship. MLGSCA encourages students to enter the field of health sciences librarianship by providing three $1000 scholarships each year, and by offering free student memberships.

Benefiel holds a PhD in philosophy and previously taught at community colleges and universities. “A doctorate in philosophy turned out to be good preparation for work as a librarian, because philosophy primarily involves thinking about how to ask questions,” she said. She’s also worked as a research assistant to a behavioral psychiatrist and as an editor for several scientists.

Looking for a career change, Benefiel started volunteering at her local library and discovered she loved the work and the environment. She enrolled at SJSU SLIS in Fall 2006 and was awarded an SJSU Graduate Equity Fellowship in 2008-2009.

Benefiel plans to graduate with her MLIS degree in August 2011 and explore internship opportunities and certification programs for health sciences librarians.