Have you ever been to one of those areas in the hospital called “the library” or “the educational/academic center”? No, I’m not talking about the athenaeum at the universities. The library we are talking about is the one at the teaching hospital specifically dedicated to the education of the trainee residents and fellows. Usually found on the first floor, it is a place where anyone can walk in and use the scholastic resources. In the ideal situation, this quiet part of the hospital has desks with computers and sofas with the round table for the discussions. Books on the shelves, online library access, and the latest issues of the academic journals, everything is available at this corner of the hospital, for the trainees and the medical students.
However, the question is if this hospital library is really a place for reading and achieving academic proficiency. My viewpoint is a little different here. After getting training in different institutions across the country, I got a chance to spend some time in the reading rooms, a.k.a. the hospital libraries for studying. When I visited friends who were doing residency in different states, I availed myself of that chance to explore the library area of their hospital. Here are some of the important characters at the hospital library.
Librarians: It is difficult to classify the reading areas at the hospital under the definition of a “library.” The staff, hired by the hospital, is there to help the residents/fellows find the research materials. In a real-life setting, however, if you decide to spend some time in the library every day for a few days, you will get to know everything going on in the lives of the library staff. Everyone hears the noise of their conversations; their weekend plans are openly discussed. Their relationship statuses are exposed. Sometimes, it feels as if they want all this to be heard by everyone trying to focus on their work.
Medical students: Next comes the medical students. They either feel scared to go to the library or on the other extreme who come to the hospital library to vent and talk about their problems or simply find a corner to sit and eat their lunch. The scared ones are very quiet—the loud ones, very loud.
Other health care providers: This includes the nurses and the techs who are sometimes seen in the hospital library. From using the library to print their documents or have a team discussion, the amenities of the reading area are fully utilized.
Researchers: The group of people who probably belong to the research institute and are involved in the clinical trials and latest protocols. It is quite natural for them to come to the hospital library to look for any reference or work on their project. Their work may also require software that is only available on the library desktops. But that’s not what they come for, rather it’s the virtual meeting that brings them here (thank you, COVID), and they attend the meetings with the speakers so everyone sitting and trying to read can listen and benefit from their meeting.
Physicians and surgeons: Now come the doctors-in-training, the residents and the fellows, who are supposedly the main beneficiaries of the hospital library. The hospital library was made for them. But according to the residents, the hospital library is a perfect place for the team discussions and the early-morning patient list run-through. The entire team can make a large group and discuss all the cases. There are discussions on the bowel movements and who needs electrolyte replacements. Some trainees also come to the library to do their notes and answer the text pages and nursing calls. Sometimes the trainees are brought into the library to have a quiet moment with them for feedback. You get to hear about their performance too. The attending physicians are also seen at times, but they don’t stay for longer given the noise in the surrounding.
Books: How can a library be complete without books? Yes, there are books in the hospital library, and they probably were last opened in the mid-1960s. We live in a time when having online institutional access to journals is a necessity and not an added benefit. However, the access code and the library websites are made so complicated that most trainees are not even aware of how to utilize them.
The above description of the library is from my own observation and may not be relevant to every intuition. The reading areas of the hospitals seldom become the focus of funding by the institutions. Trainees are often not asked to provide feedback on the availability of the educational resources, and the library staff is too busy to be concerned about the outdated books and journals getting outdated. In short, the hospital library can be a good place for team discussions, luncheons, and mid-afternoon relaxations, but then should we really call it a “hospital library”? Maybe we can decide on a different name for it.
Abeer Arain is an internal medicine resident.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com