Does Using the Medical Library Make You a Bad Doctor?

by Elizabeth on August 28, 2010 · 4 comments

in librarians, librarianship, libraries, medical libraries

Recently, I’ve had a lot of questions from people about my job.  Most are generally interested (or confused) in what I do, others seem to think that what I do is somehow wrong.  They seem to be under the impression that doctors shouldn’t be using the medical library because they should already know everything about medicine (or something like that).  
I would just like to clear the air and say that not only is that assumption wrong, it is ridiculous.  Do you know absolutely everything there is to know about a specific topic?  I didn’t think so.  If we don’t hold ourselves to this same ideal, then why should we expect our doctors to?
I understand why people think that by using the library you are basically admitting to being a bad doctor.  Because it means you are admitting you don’t know the answer.  Some doctors are like that; they refuse to admit they don’t know or that they aren’t sure.  Answer me this: would you rather have a doctor that double checked the facts before he did your surgery or just simply guessed once he opened you up?
Yeah, I thought so.
See, that’s my purpose.  My job is provide physicians (and nurses/administrators/whoever) with the most up to date and accurate information I can find so that they don’t have to guess.  Or, sometimes even worse, do the search themselves.  
So when a doctor called earlier this week asking about some complications after a surgery, I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that she didn’t know what she was talking about.  She had already diagnosed the patient, but since someone’s life was at stake, she wanted to double check her treatment plan before proceeding.  Because someone’s life was at stake.
That’s really the key in medical librarianship.  More often than not, when I do a search there is a patient whose life is going to be directly impacted by the information I provide to the physician.  It is crucial to remember that while I may not have physical contact with patients, my job touches their lives.  And my job is to pull together accurate information so physicians can make the best possible diagnosis and treatment plans they can.  

What do you think?  Do you think that a doctor who uses the library is a bad doctor?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colean August 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I am of two minds. On one hand, I feel that they *should* know as much about their specialty as they can; however, I realize that it's not always practical and would hope that they would be comfortable enough to double-check their information before making a critical mistake. 🙂


2 Jess August 28, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Given how quickly things can change in the medical world, I think it's great that a doctor would realize that they might not know everything and make sure to check with the literature first. I'd rather work with a doctor who frequently consulted a medical librarian than one who simply assumed that they knew everything no matter how up to date they are on the literature.


3 Amy August 30, 2010 at 5:29 pm

We had entire classes on how to use the library when I was in law school, and I kind of think the same thing applies to doctors. I don't expect them to instantly know exactly what is wrong with me and exactly how to fix it; I'd actually prefer that they start with what they think is the problem and double check, especially for something that is going to involve cutting me open. I'd compare new information about the best way to do a procedure or diagnose an illness with changes in case law; you've got to stay up to date, and you've got to check for new information before you file, or in the case of surgeons, cut. The analogy isn't perfect, I know, but that's what jumped to mind immediately.


4 Elizabeth August 30, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Colean, I agree with you especially when it comes to their specialty. I expect my doctor to keep up with the newest research in the field. That's why I subscribe to a number of "newsy" medical journals that aren't used a lot for true research but as a way to stay up to date. I do my best to keep up with what's going on in my field, so I think they should to. I'm glad that I can provide them a place to come and do that.

Jess, as the librarian, I would MUCH rather work with doctor who was regular library user than one who isn't. The ones who don't come in often seem to think that a) I have access to everything right at the moment and b) that they are some how "slumming" when they have to ask me a question.

Amy, I think there is a good analogy there. Law firms hire librarians for the same reason hospitals do.


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