Heidi Yarger, Inaugural Recipient of the Carla J. Funk Health Sciences
Fellowship.Image courtesy of Sara Waterman Photography
"I'm thankful for the opportunity," Heidi Yarger says. “I'm thankful for Carla Funk, and I'm also thankful for Jen Simms, Amy Minix, and Emily Alford, the three librarians that work in the health sciences building, who have supported me.”
Yarger, the inaugural recipient of the Carla J. Funk Health Sciences Fellowship adds, “I would encourage anybody to go for this who thinks they might be interested because the librarians will work with you. They will listen to you and figure out what your interests are and help shape this experience for you."
"It's inevitable: If you have a health concern, you're going to end up searching things on the internet.”
In the Fall of 2021, Yarger was in User Services and Tools, a required course in the Master of Library Science (MLS) curriculum. One day, Neuro- and Health Sciences Librarian Amy Minix and Sciences Library Head Jen Simms visited the class to speak briefly about the Funk Fellowship. “Amy said something that resonated with me,” Yarger explains. As a beginning MLS student at IU, Minix said that she was open-minded because she didn’t know what her focus in librarianship would be.
The visit of the two librarians made a difference for Yarger. “I think if I'd seen just the outline of what the fellowship was online, I would have thought, ‘Oh, I'm not qualified for that. I probably shouldn't apply.’ Having them come into the class and talk really helped.”
Fellowship project: interprofessional practice
Inspired, Yarger crafted a project proposal for the Funk Fellowship, which involved helping to create scenarios for teams of various up-and-coming professionals to navigate. “My part was creating what you’d call the lesson plan," Yarger says.
"There are quite a few things I worked on. It turned out to be really dynamic,” she says. Her main goal was to promote health information literacy, and some events include trained actors portraying the patients. Working primarily with Amy Minix, Yarger created lessons for a consortium of health care students involved in the Interprofessional Practice and Education (IPE) Center, which is housed in the new IU Regional Academic Health Center . Assistant Dean for Education, Zach Weber coordinated the work. Yarger explains, “IPE involves students who are in the health sciences, nursing students, medical students, social workers, students in public health, optometry, dentistry – all these different disciplines – coming together in these events."
Learning how to communicate across professions, the students “are tasked with something and the whole goal is for them to talk to one another and work on the problem with one another to mimic how things will be when they're actually practicing outside of school and interacting with people who are not specifically in their field.” Together their goal is to look at the whole patient.
Yarger set the typical scene. The patient-actor picks several articles of misinformation as if they were at home doing Internet searches. “Then, the students are tasked with addressing that mis/disinformation by; a) finding evidence-based articles that countered the faulty information, and, b) coming up with a strategy to talk to the patient about it.” For example, the first “patient” had COVID-19 plus type-2 diabetes, so their articles involved both maladies. Yarger was able to sit with and watch students come up with strategies on how to best address the patient’s misinformation.
Yarger concludes, “Librarians have the opportunity to collaborate with health science professionals not only to aid them in their research but to aid them in their interpersonal communication strategies. The students did a good job finding evidence-based research that countered some of the information the patient was coming to them with, but I noticed the students had a hard time talking to the patient about how to find reputable information online.” Yarger continues, “This points to a gap in knowledge I think we as librarians could and should help fill.”
Originally, Yarger was wondering “about how librarians can support patients when they're not in the doctor's office.” Noting that patients are only with the doctor for a short amount of time, she wanted to create a system connecting patients with support groups, especially if they have a chronic illness. Yarger wished to figure out “how to best support community members and help them find needed resources, and maybe help them feel comfortable.”
The overall fellowship project, however, took a somewhat different path, which Yarger found equally helpful,“I was able to go talk to an actual support group that's connected to IU Health and do an instruction session about health information literacy for them,” she says explaining that the research informed both projects.
“No matter what your credentials are,” Yarger said, “It's inevitable: If you have a health concern, you're going to end up searching things on the internet.” Being realistic, her educated guidance is to know where the information is coming from. "Find out who is running the website." In addition, she suggests learning the scientific process and understanding how information changes. “That can be confusing and not obvious.”
“There are some great resources through the National Library of Medicine and Medline,” Yarger says. “They have specific training you can work through.” She explains they present sample pages, discuss credible sources, and share how to determine authority. The training presents critical thinking tips. “Even if the site is credible, maybe you shouldn’t be self-diagnosing,” Yarger explains. “It can be really isolating, I think, to have any sort of health concerns,” she adds sympathetically. “Medical librarians can play a role in helping to make people feel supported and maybe not so isolated when they're going through that.”
Appreciation for Carla Funk and the fellowship
The fellowship’s donor, Carla Funk, has talked with Yarger. “She’s been a medical librarian for a long time and was Executive Director of the Medical Library Association,” Yarger shared enthusiastically. “She spoke about actually working as a librarian and having a doctor leave the operating room and ask her to look up a specific section of a specific article because he needed the information and couldn't remember it. He then went back into the operating room,” Yarger says. “I think it just speaks to the importance of health information specialists. There's so much information out there, and having the right information can make a huge difference.”
Yarger says the Carla J. Funk Health Sciences Fellowship helped her profoundly. She grew in her confidence. “I was completely new to the world of being an information professional, and so getting to work with all of these amazing, smart, qualified people and having them take my input seriously and want to hear from me has made a huge impact.”
“I feel I’ve opened myself up to more opportunities.” She started her MLS this past year desiring to be a service to her community. The IU Libraries Funk Fellowship validated that thought and expanded on it. Impressed by how many kinds of librarians there are, Yarger commented on how they are often in the background, “making all these things happen and people don’t necessarily realize it.”
“I could see myself going into health science librarianship or working in a medical library. It’s also helped me to see all of the wonderful partnerships that can happen. You can work with all of these different people to create new services for people.” She’s enjoyed seeing that happen. Yarger also sees the health information field as ever-evolving. “This will be a really interesting career path, no matter where it goes,” she concludes.