Name: Jeff Mason
Born: Oshawa, Ontario
Profession: Medical Librarian
Despite what you seen on shows like House, Grey's Anatomy, or even Scrubs, doctors and nurses don't always have all the answers when it comes to making the best decisions about treatment. That's where medical librarians come in. By finding the answers to important questions, and by teaching health professionals how to find new and cutting edge research and information for themselves, medical librarians help to keep health care current.
What is a medical librarian?
Hopefully you know what a librarian is, but I'll try to clarify — I am a professional trained in the organization and management of information services and materials for those with information needs...at least that's what Wikipedia says I am, and it seems like a pretty good description. I work in a hospital and help people find answers to questions.
What is a typical day like for you?
Most of my day is spent answering questions asked by staff, students, and residents in my hospital. An important part of working in a health care profession is staying current and using information that is available to you to make the best heath care decisions for patients. Finding the best answer isn't always easy and that's where I come in. If someone has a question about how to best treat diabetes they come to me and I search for journal articles, books, or websites that would best answer their question. I mostly search for answers in products such as Medline or PubMed, but I sometimes use the Google when more reliable sources won't do.
Recently I have started attending rounds with residents on a medical teaching unit. I go with them to see patients and keep track of questions they have or are asked by the doctor who is in charge of teaching that day. Going on rounds is far different than being in the library because I actually see patients — something that is good or bad depending on how you feel about sick people.
I also spend a lot of time teaching hospital staff how to use the library's resources to find information on their own. Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals (e.g. pharmacists) have to be able to find answers on their own if I am not available. To help them out I'll work with groups or individuals to show them where to look for answers and how to use the resources we have in our collection. I've also taught classes on health literacy to help staff understand how to communicate medical information to patients and their families in a way that is easy to understand.
My other time is spent maintaining our library's online and print collections. I decide what items need to be added to the collection to make it as current and practical as possible. I need to know how much money I have to spend and make the best use of that money to meet the needs of as many people as possible. I talk with sales people from different publishing companies to talk about what new products they have to offer and negotiate prices for subscriptions. I also spend some time making sure our online resources work properly and that they are as easy to use as possible for our staff.
Did you always want to be a medical librarian?
No. When I first went to university I studied forensic science and anthropology. After trying that out for a couple of years I decided it was not for me. I can't remember how I ever considered working in a library but at the time it seemed like the right decision and it has worked out so far.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
I can't say I remember much from high school now...but classes that provide the foundation for what I do would be things like biology and chemistry (helps with understanding medical terminology), math (for budgeting/accounting stuff), English (for presentations and writing),and I'll also say music (because it was great and music and the arts make you better at math and science).
Where did you go to university/college?
I have my Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto at Mississauga. I majored in forensic science and anthropology.
I also have my Masters degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Western Ontario. You need a Masters degree to work as a professional librarian.
How did you decide where to go?
I went to U of T because it was the only place in the country that offered a program in forensic science at the time.
I picked Western because their program allows you to start in the summer,fall or winter and has an excellent and very flexible co-op program.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so, what?
I mentioned before that to be a librarian you need to have your Masters degree. Most of the time job postings will say that the degree needs to come from an American Library Association accredited program as well. So that's something to look for.
What is the coolest part of your job?
The coolest part of my job is knowing the answers I find to doctors' questions help patients get better.
What's the worst part of your job?
The worst part of my job is having to sit at a desk most of the day. I try to break that up by getting out of the office as much as possible.
What's the salary range for this particular job and field?
Hard to say for sure. The low end for librarians in Canada is probably $40,000. The high end would be over $80,000 depending on the type of library you work in and the responsibilities you have.
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
Probably calling a doctor by the wrong name. I see a lot of people every day, I can't keep them straight.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
Go to a school that offers a co-op program. Even if you've worked in a library before, shelving or signing out books is not the same as building a collection and searching for information.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
The Canadian Health Libraries Association is the professional association for health librarians in Canada -
The Medical Library Association has some good career resources -
The Canadian Library Association also has some career info -
What are the top 5 songs on your mp3 player?
Rightnow probably the CBC Radio 3 Podcast with Grant Lawrence, the R3-30Podcast, Roll On Oblivion by Jason Collett, Back In Your Head by Teganand Sara, and Vagabond by Hey Ocean.
What's your favorite cartoon character?
Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama. He's such a terrible doctor.
Wouldyou rather have the face of Albert Einstein but the body of Brad Pittor be as smart as Einstein but have a tail of a kangaroo?
I'll take the one that doesn't leave me as a half-human half-animal abomination, thanks.
What's the best thing about Canada?
The independent music scene and Radio 3.
Tattoos: cool or uncool?
Definitely cool...planning on another one soon.