Clinical Librarians: Behind the Front Lines

While the medical community grapples with the fallout from COVID-19, UofL doctors are depending upon a hidden asset to fight the virus: clinical librarians.

These invisible partners work behind the scenes make sure physicians, medical staff and students have relevant, timely information to complete their missions. Providing library support at clinical meetings, conducting literature searches, and creating online resource guides are the daily regimen for Kornhauser’s librarians.

“I simply could not function at full potential without a dedicated librarian.”

– Dr. Martin Huecker, research director for UofL’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

While clinical librarians help clinicians use verifiable best practices and evidence-based research throughout the year, they are now arguably more important than ever.

Jessica Petrey at COVID19 Outreach center

For example, Jessica Petrey, Kornhauser’s Associate Director of Clinical Services, works with UofL physicians and staff in six practice areas, including infectious diseases and emergency medicine, programs that are particularly active now. She attends weekly meetings – virtually and in person, practicing physical distancing – to help medical personnel work effectively as the pandemic rages locally. It’s all part of her ordinary job that has just become extraordinary.

“Our physicians have been deeply supportive of Petrey’s work and she is highly regarded by some world-renown experts,” said Kornhauser Director Vida Vaughn. “So many of our library personnel are invaluable to the medical community.”

In a testimonial email, Dr. Martin Huecker, research director for UofL’s Department of Emergency Medicine, says that he “simply could not function at full potential without a dedicated librarian.” In praise of Petrey, he notes “many instances of communicating via email during an actual ER shift, and receiving responses from Jessica that affected patient care.”

I rely on [Petrey’s] support for literature searches, content management related to point of care / real time clinical decision-making tools, and troubleshooting / access to those tools (clinical key, up-to-date, etc.). Emergency medicine is a specialty that relies particularly heavily on rapid availability of resources. Jessica answers emails with uncanny promptness.

Likewise, Ruth Carrico, Professor in the Infectious Diseases department, writes

The long-standing relationship the Division of Infectious Diseases has with the UofL Libraries has been one of tremendous value for our teaching, service, and research activities. Each week, Jessica Petrey, Association Director Clinical Services participates in our faculty meetings. During these meetings she provides insight and expertise in existing literature and research reports that address clinical questions as well as opportunities for additional research. As part of the COVID-19 response, Jessica worked with us to develop repositories for publications that helped us with development of new manuscripts for submission. In addition, the UofL Libraries have been instrumental in helping us maintain two peer-review journals that continue to grow in interest and impact.

“Our role is to make sure we’re facilitating access to information, sometimes in real time” said Petrey. “That is a more proactive role now with the volume of information coming out. People need a bit more help navigating it, and might not have time to ask.”

Published studies are also more readily available to the public now, as many proprietary scientific journals make COVID-19 research freely available to support a unified front against the current health crisis.

Helping clinicians and researchers stay on top of the information within a subject domain, even when it comes at a frenzied pace, is simply part of a clinical librarian’s job, says Vaughn.

“So many of our library personnel are invaluable to the medical community.”

— Kornhauser Director Vida Vaughn

“When you’re an embedded librarian no matter what the subject area – gastroenterology, family medicine or pediatrics – you have to stay on top of information. You’re always looking at the newest articles on the topic that are constantly coming out. We set alerts for research in subject areas and are pushing out evidence-based scholarship to the doctors we serve.”

After Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear suspended elective surgeries in March, all clinics and most research activity were canceled, after which Kornhauser faculty and staff saw a slight drop in requests for information. But after a few weeks, requests for assistance accelerated again.

“It started to sink in that normal is not something that’s going to happen any time soon, so they need to keep going with whatever research they can,” said Petrey. “So we’re starting to see requests picking back up again, and we’re even exceeding our normal workloads.”

After the University issued its work-from-home order, Kornhauser remained open for several weeks, but eventually closed its building to protect users and the Library’s workers, allowing personnel to work remotely. The closure hasn’t limited the Library’s instruction and service model since “nearly everything we do is online, with access to resources and collections there,” says Vaughn.

However, “the Health Sciences Campus is primarily comprised of professional students with jobs and families, and Kornhauser Library is a refuge-like study space away from home. So the library closure was something of a shock to our community,” Vaughn continued. “We are directing them to Ekstrom Library for study space, or the Student Activity Center during Intersession when Ekstrom is closed.”

Throughout the coming months as the medical community continues to grapple with the ramifications of COVID-19’s spread, Kornhauser librarians and staff will continue to serve them as always, behind the scenes, working diligently. And their work will continue to be appreciated. From Dr. Huecker’s testimonial:

I extend sincere gratitude to Jessica Petrey (along with John Chenault, Rachel Howard, and the UofL Libraries in general) for allowing me to practice efficient, evidence-based, up to date clinical emergency medicine while maintaining an active focus on scholarship.

Visit Kornhauser Library for more information.



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