Jeffrey Reznick: Chief, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine with The National Institute of Health
Kenneth M. Koyle: Deputy Chief, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine with The National Institute of Health
In 2012, the Obama administration launched the “Pathways Program” through the Office of Personnel Management to streamline the path to Federal internships and careers in Federal service for students and recent graduates. Since then, the History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest biomedical library, has hosted over thirty Pathways student interns, supporting their time and talent dedicated to public service in the world’s largest biomedical library, located on the main campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. This article describes the interagency value of the Pathways Program as staff of the NLM History of Medicine Division have achieved it through their work with and mentorship of Pathways interns of diverse backgrounds and academic interests. This cohort of aspiring young professionals has contributed measurably to connecting NLM collections and programs to diverse research constituencies of both the humanities and biomedical sciences, and to the public overall. In so doing, their public service experiences have been valuable for their learning and employment, indeed in both their personal and professional lives.
The History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), like many federal agencies and offices, has long seen the value in supporting student internships. Even before the Office of Personnel Management established the Pathways Program in 2012 to standardize the federal recruiting and hiring of student interns and recent graduates, HMD was working with earlier internship programs to provide opportunities to aspiring students.
When the leadership of the division made the decision to engage with the Pathways program to bring in summer and year-round interns, it was with two primary considerations: First, that we would use the program to reach students with diverse backgrounds, interests, and educational goals; and second, that the internships would always be mutually beneficial. Our interns have never been viewed as cheap labor; nor is the program scoped to didactic or purely educational activities. When each intern is selected for the program, her or his internship begins with a conversation about goals and objectives, and ways to achieve them through existing HMD programs. The intern is assigned projects that advance the HMD mission to connect NLM collections and programs to diverse research constituencies, while also providing experience and learning opportunities that help the student excel academically and professionally. Additionally, HMD interns become part of our overall team: we welcome them and encourage their participation in our staff meetings, and we support their professional development through the wide range of resources available to staff of the NLM and the NIH. Depending on the focus of their internship and their personal interests, they may also participate in working groups, committees, and project teams.
Students can apply for internships while in high school and can start as young as 16 years old. Internships can continue throughout a student’s academic career, all the way through graduate school. Some interns work with HMD only during the summers, while others work full-time during summers and other school breaks, and part-time during the academic year. Most students spend their entire internship with HMD, but in some cases the HMD staff mentor will look for opportunities elsewhere at NLM that more closely align with the student’s interests and goals. In each case the intent is the same: finding meaningful work that benefits the institution as well as the student.
It is important to note that very few of the Pathways interns who work with the History of Medicine Division aspire to careers in either history or medicine. Our interns have gone on to work as engineers, systems analysts, program managers, cyber security professionals, and more. Of course, some did develop a passion for historical research or librarianship, and there is a strong contingent of historians, archivists, librarians, and conservators among our Pathways alumni. Several of our former interns have remained in touch with us and have shared their thoughts on the program. With their support and continued enthusiasm about their internship experience, we have gathered their stories to share in this article.
Johnny Ak, one of our earliest Pathways interns, who transitioned to the Pathways program from an earlier internship in 2012 and continued as an intern through graduate school in 2015, considered his Pathways experience to be a formative part of his current cybersecurity career. He credits the internship with giving him valuable experience “wearing multiple hats,” something that has helped him balance a wide variety of duties and demands in his current job. One of our current interns, Carrissa Lindmark, has been working with our Exhibition Program for several years while she pursues a similar educational path in STEM Technology.
During her three years as a Pathways intern in HMD, Thu Tran gained valuable experience in planning and coordinating projects, working as part of a team, and applying new skills to her daily work in the division’s Web and Social Media Program. Having graduated from George Mason University in 2020, Thu is now in her second year of optometry school and credits the internship with helping her establish this path. “It brings me great joy,” Thu shared recently, “to have spent three years of my undergraduate college career at HMD, where the support, guidance, and opportunities I received from the division helped me grow as an academic professional.”
Some of our Pathways interns have found the experience so beneficial that they recommended it to their younger siblings. While they have to go through the same required application and formal selection process as anyone else, we are always happy to work with interns who would come to HMD on the recommendation of a family member. William and James Boudhraa, Pathways interns in 2013 and 2016 respectively, both worked with our online exhibitions and other web curation projects. William began his internship during high school and continued into his college years. When asked for his reflections on the experience, he recalled having the opportunity to give a presentation at a division staff meeting. He chose to present on a subject that interested him – micro-animals called tardigrades – and was thrilled that his colleagues were genuinely interested in his presentation. William cites that day as a key moment in his internship, sharing, “It might be no exaggeration to say that this experience has led me down the road I am on now, three years into a PhD in microbiology, so I can keep on telling people about the things I find fascinating.” James Boudhraa followed his brother into the internship, and now works as an Operations Research/Systems Analyst at the Pentagon, supporting some of the top strategic decision-makers in the country. James credits his Pathways experience for his current career path, stating, “My HMD pathways internship would be my first job, and also mark the beginning of my civil service career path that is still currently still running.” Steven Dunne worked as a Pathways intern at NLM for almost six years, from high school to graduate school, and will soon graduate with a master’s degree in Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland. His sister Kristina Dunne is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, and has been working with us in the Pathways program since the summer of her high school junior year in 2019.
The supervisors and mentors of our Pathways interns take great satisfaction in seeing that several of these bright young students parlayed the experience into careers in the fields they first explored with us in the History of Medicine Division. Mariah Lewis interned with our Rare Book Catalogers, and is now a librarian at Fordham University. Alice Griffin worked with our Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program and is now an Archivist at the Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library. Homira Pashai came to the Pathways internship with a language skill set that enabled her to work with our Persian manuscripts, an experience that led her to positions with the Freer Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress, and a master’s degree in history from the University of Maryland. She is currently writing a book about Persian history. After interning with our Exhibition Program, Cait Reizman went on to earn a master’s degree in museum studies at George Washington University, and now works as a digitization program manager for Google Books. And Laura McNulty worked with the NLM Conservation Program for several years as a Pathways intern, undertaking hands-on conservation work and conducting groundbreaking research with the mentorship of our experienced conservators. Her internship led to a master’s degree from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), one of only four rare book and art conservation graduate education programs in the United States. As she embarks on her own career as a conservator, she credits the mentorship that began in the Pathways program and continues to this day. “The Pathways program,” Laura writes, “lived up to its name as it paved my way into the conservation field.”
Perhaps the greatest success of an internship program is when a student transitions from being an intern to working as a successful employee at the same institution. Three current HMD employees came to the division through internships. Lindsay Franz, our Systems Librarian, and Krista Stracka, a Rare Book Librarian in our Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Section, both worked in HMD under an internship program called STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program) that was a precursor to the Pathways program. Nicole Baker spent several years with HMD as a Pathways intern, and now works as a Reference Librarian in the same section as Krista Stracka. The Federal government has hiring provisions to streamline the application process for interns who complete their academic programs successfully, and these three exemplary employees were able to use this mechanism to return to HMD after graduation and start their public service careers.
While the interns who work with us proceed along their own unique paths, the experience they gain through the Pathways internship program is universally beneficial. The National Library of Medicine exists to serve the public through the collection and dissemination of trustworthy biomedical information, and our staff members have chosen a path of public service. We see our support of the Pathways internship program as an extension of this public service, as we offer growth opportunities and encouragement for promising young interns, helping them to achieve their own goals, which often include a future in public service.
Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, and Kenneth M. Koyle, MA, are supervisory historians on the federal staff of the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where they serve, respectively, as Chief and Deputy Chief of the NLM History of Medicine Division. They completed this article as part of their official duties, with support from the NLM, and they thank the current and former student interns noted in the text who provided their personal reflections and insights and reviewed a draft prior to submission.