Medical librarianship is not something that is typically encountered in library school outside of a special libraries class, and even then it’s just a section of the class. So when I first started as a solo hospital librarian, I knew next to nothing about health sciences librarianship, and even less about hospital librarianship.
Hospital librarianship is different from medical librarianship because a hospital librarian is both a medical and a business librarian. There are no subject specialties in hospital librarianship; you are a jack of all trades. Hospital librarians typically work with a broad range of people including medical students, residents, physicians covering a number of medical specialties, nurses, pharmacists, administrators, and sometimes even patients and family members. Not only do you need to be familiar with the typical medical literature databases (PubMed, CINAHL, Medline Plus), you have to be aware of special resources like point-of-care tools, clinical trial databases, evidence-based medicine, and resources concerning the business side of health care, rehabilitation, chaplaincy, psychology/psychiatry… The list goes on and on.
Hospital librarianship is a lot like business or law librarianship. Your user isn’t interested in how you got to the answer, what database you used, or how to do it themselves. When someone calls you from the OR because the gastric bypass conversion went wrong or the colon isn’t where it’s supposed to be, a hospital librarian gives the surgeon the answer, plain and simple. There is no time to bombard the user with lots of information and details. A hospital librarian must always be aware that at the end of every search, of every PubMed lesson, of every article ordered, there is a patient, a real person who needs help.
Another thing to be aware of is that, unless you are very lucky and work for one the premier research hospitals, hospital librarians work either by themselves (like me) or with a very small support staff. Hospital librarianship is perfect for someone who can’t pick a specialty. Hospital librarians do reference and research obviously, but they also do the collection development, the cataloging, and the marketing. A hospital librarian is very often the director, the interlibrary loan librarian, the page, the electronic resources manager, the copier repair person, and tech support. In one day, a hospital librarian might attend a meeting with the president and chief medical officer of the hospital, join a group of clinicians on patient rounds, spend two hours making copies for various people, repair the fax machine, edit a powerpoint presentation, dust the library, and barter with a vendor over the price of a database.
If you are considering a career in health science librarianship, but want something beyond being embedded in the undergraduate nursing program or staffing the desk for the medical school library, take a look at hospital libraries. If you never considered anything related to health science and/or didn’t know that hospitals had libraries, still give hospital librarianship a thought or two. If you like juggling multiple projects at once, enjoy research, are not squeamish, like having autonomy and running the show, and are interested in the future of medicine, being a hospital librarian might be a good fit for you.
Elizabeth, better known as Lizy, is a solo hospital librarian living in the Heart of Dixie. In her spare time she enjoys reading romance novels, baking bread, and watching marathons on Netflix. You can check out all her ramblings on cooking, dating, traveling, home-owning, kitty parenting, and occasionally, being a librarian on her blog, Adventures in Life, Love, and Librarianship. She also tweets all the randomness that doesn't make it on her blog as @LibrarianLizy.