ETSU medical librarian receives profession’s most prestigious outreach award


JOHNSON CITY (September 26, 2013) – Dr. Rick Wallace, the assistant director of the Medical Library at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2013 Michael DeBakey Library Services Outreach Award, an honor regarded as one of the most prestigious in the profession.

Presented by the Friends of the National Library of Medicine (FNLA), the DeBakey Award recognizes outstanding service to rural or underserved communities. Wallace received his award during the FNLA Annual Awards Gala held recently in Washington, D.C. Other awardees included Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN.

Wallace first arrived at ETSU in 1995, and Suresh Ponnappa said his impact on the Medical Library – particularly its outreach and other public service programs – has been immense. Ponnappa, a professor and associate dean at Quillen, is director of the Medical Library.

“Dr. Wallace’s role in the success of our medical library’s activities is immeasurable,” Ponnappa said. “He has been a part and parcel of our library receiving numerous accolades for the innovative services that we have been able to provide not only to our students and faculty, but also to the surrounding community, as well. His receiving this prestigious DeBakey Award is yet another testament to his vision and commitment to our outreach program.”

As with any library, the ETSU Medical Library maintains a vast collection of books, journals, digital media and portals to indispensable sites, such as PubMed and MedlinePlus, to serve the needs of the Quillen College of Medicine. Wallace’s office is there, too, and he has filled that traditional role of librarian – but has also gone way beyond that.

In his office window, Wallace has perched a wooden sign that reads Katahdin, for the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. As an avid hiker who has taken the trail in chunks and is nearing completion of it, Wallace has logged almost 2,000 of miles of the AT in hiking boots. He has also logged thousands of miles behind the wheel as a medical librarian, determined to provide access to information that hospitals, physicians and other health care providers needed.

 “We’ve made it our mission at the Medical Library to perform outreach to underserved and rural communities, and that fits right in line with the mission of the College of Medicine,” Wallace said. “We’ve visited and served the medical library needs of more than 40 hospitals and more than 40 clinics through the years, in some of the most remote areas of the state. Examples of where we provide library services are to a hospital in Jellico (a coal mining town in Campbell County); Savannah, which is near the Alabama state line; McMinnville in the Cumberland Mountains; and Erwin.

“Our approach was this in terms of outreach: These people need our help, so let’s go get it done. Some of them wouldn’t have access to crucial information without these outreach programs.”

It would come as no surprise that Wallace is fond of books, but it’s safe to say that what he loves is providing access to information. He has helped the Medical Library earn more than $500,000 in extramural grant funding, including a $107,000 grant from the National Library of Medicine to place personal computers with MD Consult subscriptions in rural hospitals for physicians to use. He partnered with the Tennessee Hospital Association to get personal digital assistants, with pre-loaded medical software, into the hands of physicians and nurses in eight rural hospitals. He received two additional grants to provide these devices for clinicians in 18 rural hospitals. Wallace has also been a driving force in a Quillen Medical Library program that has taught librarians throughout West, Middle and East Tennessee how to help the public access quality health information on the Internet.

“We saw early on that the future of accessing health information would be in hand-held devices, PDAs and smartphones,” Wallace said. “We see it as our mission to provide information to the people who need it. If doctors aren’t able to stay current, they aren’t able to provide the best treatment.”

Though he has had an estimable career as a medical librarian, Wallace did not originally intend to become one. He was in seminary when friends suggested he explore library science as a career – ostensibly a career as a theological librarian.

After earning his master’s in divinity, Wallace did indeed earn a master’s degree in library science from the University of Tennessee, but his career veered toward medical librarianship. Wallace received his doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from ETSU, holds a second master’s degree in theology and a master’s in applied organization management from Tusculum College, and is on track to complete a master’s degree in biostatistics and epidemiology from the ETSU College of Public Health in 2014.

“I think medical librarianship is my true calling,” Wallace said, “especially when it comes to the outreach programs we do here. I like to get out and participate in projects that make a direct impact; I don’t like meetings or being tied to a desk. The most rewarding part of the job is being out in the community providing people the information they need.”

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