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  5. Sarah Westphal Earns Prestigeious National Library of Medicine Fellowship

Sarah Westphal Earns Prestigeious National Library of Medicine Fellowship

The Associate Fellowship Program, a one-year postgraduate training fellowship at NLM, provides MLIS graduates with a foundation in health sciences information services and the experience to take on leadership positions in health sciences libraries and research. Fellows are trained in all aspects of the library’s operations during the first five months of the program and are encouraged to focus on individual research projects during the last seven, culminating in written reports and informal presentations.

A Minnesota native, Sarah will move to Maryland this August to join a select few MLIS graduates from across the country at the nation’s central source of health information. Before she heads east, Sarah will take the summer to learn a little more about NLM and the many doors this fellowship – beginning in Fall 2009 – will open for her. Recently Sarah shared with Inside SOIS a little about her education and where she sees her future career in health science information services.

INSIDE SOIS: What made you pursue MLIS at UWM?

Sarah: Making the decision to pursue an MLIS degree was a long process. I knew I wanted to go back to school. I was part-way through my masters of public health degree in Minnesota and remember struggling to find information when I was in school. I spoke to the school librarians for help; they were great. I saw what they did and loved it. I worked in business in a laboratory for a short time before deciding to pursue an MLIS degree. I started at Minnesota’s LIS school and decided to switch to SOIS because I liked the school’s focus on information science, not just on libraries. I have an undergraduate degree in Food Science from UW-Madison.

INSIDE SOIS: What made you apply for this fellowship?

Sarah: I heard about it from Alex Dimitroff. She mentioned her experiences with the fellowship and said that another SOIS student—Kate Flewelling—was beginning her fellowship at the same time I was considering applying. I knew that I wanted to work in the sciences in some way, and saw the fellowship as an opportunity to focus on health sciences and information.

INSIDE SOIS:  What areas do you think you’d be interested in exploring during the last seven months of your fellowship, when NLM encourages independent research?

Sarah: I’m interested in exploring public health and environmental health, and how these two areas overlap. NLM does a lot with toxicology databases and there are many possibilities for research in health vocabulary with NLM’s UMLS, so that would be a great opportunity as well. I’m also interested in informatics.

INSIDE SOIS: What are your plans post-fellowship?

Sarah: I’m definitely interested in doing the second year program for the fellowship. I would like to focus on public health agencies and look at nontraditional jobs, like in the CDC or some similar agency where I would be working more directly with public health professionals and helping them to be more efficient in their information seeking and use. I would also like to complete my Masters of Public Health degree.

INSIDE SOIS: How has your education from UWM helped prepare you to take on this fellowship?

Sarah: I took the health sciences course which definitely got me interested in what they were doing at NLM. One thing about SOIS’s program that I really feel benefited me was the level of involvement of the professors. They were so helpful and involved and eager to help and cater to my health information interests. They really helped me to understand how my skills in public health could transfer to a new area of health informatics.

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