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Medical Librarians Provide Consumer Health Workshops in South Africa

Posted by on March 13th, 2012 Posted in: All Posts

Interview conducted by Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region

Cynthia Vaughn and Martha Earl, medical librarians at the Preston Medical Library, University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, have been invited and sponsored by both the U.S. Embassy in South Africa and the Library and Information Association in South Africa to teach public librarians how to access the best available health information on behalf of their communities. By making this trip and providing training, they hope to provide families throughout South Africa with valuable education and information so they can make informed decisions about health care and do their best to keep their families healthy.

Cynthia and Martha will conduct numerous workshops throughout South Africa to help community librarians successfully navigate and access the wealth of quality online health resources. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) developed the classes, and the workshops are patterned after those utilized in “A Simple Plan Extended,” a project Vaughn and Earl participated in where they taught health information to librarians throughout Tennessee. The schedule includes presentations in major cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban, as well as in the areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

Before they left, we had a chance to interview the pair. We wish both safe travels and much success! To follow their progress, please read Cynthia’s blog:

Interview Questions for Cynthia Vaughn and Martha Earl

South Africa Outreach Project

How did you become involved in the project that led to the invitation by the U.S. Embassy in South Africa?

As part of the Outreach State Planning group, Rick Wallace at ETSU obtained an NN/LM award to teach in three Tennessee regions. Later, we partnered with him and Nakia Woodward of ETSU in order to extend the outreach. This project was called “A Simple Plan Extended.”

What is your background or story that led you to do the work you do?

Preston Medical Library has been involved with consumer health for over 20 years.  Outreach to the communities in rural Tennessee is just a natural part of that mission.

What other outreach experience(s) led you to this project?

Preston Medical Library’s consumer health program began as a partnership with the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) and the Knox County Public Library.  Martha has participated in the Tennessee Continuing Education Planning Summit organized by the TSLA.

Why are you targeting the public librarians in South Africa for this training? Do you think other groups might benefit as well?

We were asked to target the public librarians! While there, we will also have the chance to meet with several medical librarians and find out more about what kind of partnerships are (or are not) currently in place.

What do you love most about the outreach work you do? 

Cynthia: The people. Everyone has a story, and I love meeting new people.

Martha: Consumer health outreach empowers the consumer and the librarian to take care of their own health, and the health of their family and community. 

What is the biggest challenge you encounter in your work? What do you think will be the biggest challenge during this trip?

Here, one of the biggest challenges is health literacy, or more specifically, the lack of health literacy. Also, time is a big obstacle … there is just not enough time to do all the outreach desired.

We expect some degree of language/cultural barriers. Another challenge could be issues with technology.

What do you see as the biggest health concerns in the communities you will provide health information training and instruction?

From the preliminary research we’ve done, HIV/AIDS is the top health concern. We think we’ll also be asked about how to find information about at-home treatments for common ailments and prevention of other communicable diseases. Other major issues are maternal/child health and nutritional challenges.

Can you share a success story about the impact of health outreach in your community? Or, what do you anticipate to be the impact of this trip?

Some of the library staff in the Tennessee outreach told us that what they learned in our classes helped them to make smarter decisions about their health and healthcare, as well as for their loved ones.

What advice would you give others who are interested in doing similar health outreach work in their communities?

Go for it!  This Tennessee project was funded by an award from NN/LM. Contact them … the librarians there have resources to help you plan and succeed with your goals.

After the project is completed, do you anticipate future collaboration or outreach either locally or internationally?

We have talked about doing outreach again in 2014 or so to the same regions in Tennessee, so the people we trained before can take CE classes to maintain their MLA Consumer Health Information Specialization, as well as train new staff.  More international work is always a possibility, but we don’t have any concrete plans as of now.

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