Libraries, museums, and organizations throughout the United States and across the world host National Library of Medicine (NLM) traveling exhibitions. These sites plan and present enriching and engaging programs to connect their communities with the information in the exhibitions and with the wide variety of publicly-available NLM resources. This series, Making Exhibition Connections invites host venues to share their partnerships, programs, and public engagement experiences with Circulating Now readers. Today, Rena Selya, PhD, MLIS, an Archivist in the Historical Conservancy Department and Research Assistant Professor and Associate Director for the Program in the History of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA tells us about hosting Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care.
Circulating Now: Tell us about your institution. Where are you located? What is your mission? Who do you serve?
Rena Selya: Cedars-Sinai is a national leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered healthcare encompassing primary care as well as specialized medicine and conducting research that leads to lifesaving discoveries and innovations. Since its beginning in 1902, Cedars-Sinai has evolved to meet the healthcare needs of one of the most diverse regions in the nation, continually setting new standards in quality and innovation in patient care, research, teaching and community service. Today, Cedars-Sinai is widely known for its national leadership in transforming healthcare for the benefit of patients. Cedars-Sinai impacts the future of healthcare globally by developing new approaches to treatment and educating tomorrow’s physicians and other health professionals. At the same time, Cedars-Sinai demonstrates a longstanding commitment to strengthening the Los Angeles community through wide-ranging programs that improve the health of its most vulnerable residents.
The Historical Conservancy Department is tasked with preserving the history of the hospital, and most of the materials are housed in the Medical Library. I work closely with our Art Curator, John Lange, on creating historical exhibitions around the medical center, and his team took the lead on the installation of this exhibition.
CN: Why did you want to host Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care?
RS: We chose to apply to host “Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care” because the exhibition’s emphasis on the diverse roles that Physician Assistants (PAs) play in contemporary healthcare resonates with our mission as well as the history of these valuable advanced practice partners here at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. We have over 150 PAs practicing throughout our health system, increasing access to quality healthcare services in over twenty programs across the Los Angeles area. Hosting this exhibit is a way to highlight their contributions and show them how much we appreciate the care they provide to our patients every day.
CN: Were you trying to connect with specific groups within your community?
RS: We hoped to connect primarily with our PAs on staff. Since we were excited about presenting the exhibit to anyone who came to Cedars-Sinai, we decided to place the exhibit in one of highest traffic areas, right outside the cafeteria. Anyone leaving the cafeteria would walk down the hall where the exhibit was located, and even as we were installing it, people were drawn to the bright colors and informative text.
CN: How did you reach out to your community about the exhibition? Did you present any programs, training, activities, or displays in conjunction with the exhibition?
RA: I supplemented the exhibit with a display of some Cedars-Sinai specific materials that focused on one of the first PAs to work here, a woman named Laye Akinloye, who had recently retired after more than 30 years at Cedars-Sinai. Laye was hired in the first group of six PAs who joined our Cardiothoracic surgery team in the early 1990s, and she was a leader in our PA postgraduate training program as well. We included our contact information in the display because we wanted to hear from PAs who participated in the postgraduate training program. I was delighted when Laye contacted us to thank us for putting up the exhibit, and I took the opportunity to interview her to preserve her story in our Living Archive oral history program.
Soon after we heard that we would be hosting the exhibit, Karen Bass was sworn in as Mayor of Los Angeles. Bass was trained as PA in the 1980s, and she is featured in the exhibit as the first PA elected to Congress. I immediately thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to invite her to come see it and meet with some our PAs?” I reached out to partners in the Government Relations department to help me issue the invitation. Mayor Bass has a longstanding relationship with Cedars-Sinai, and in her words, she “absolutely jumped at the opportunity” to see the exhibit.
On July 21, Mayor Bass visited Cedars-Sinai for a private viewing of the exhibition at a reception honoring our dedicated PAs. After a warm welcome from CEO and President Tom Priselac, Bass noted that “Although I’ve been out of clinical medicine for a long time, in my heart I’m still a physician assistant,” and compellingly argued that her commitment to providing care to underserved populations animates her approach to the current crisis of thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. She praised the Cedars-Sinai PAs for their hard work and encouraged them to get involved in city-wide public health initiatives. The PAs, including her friend Laye, had the chance to speak with Mayor Bass and were treated to box lunch in recognition of their key role in providing quality healthcare to Cedars-Sinai patients. The event was a huge morale boost for our hard-working PAs and strengthened our relationship with our local elected officials.
CN: What else would you like to share about your experience hosting this exhibition?
RS: As soon as the exhibition came down, John and I started talking about which ones we would like to host next. These exhibitions are a wonderful resource for stimulating interest in historical medical topics, and we look forward to having another opportunity to use history to make meaningful connections with our practitioners, patients, and community members.
Rena Selya is an historian and archivist of science and medicine. She has a PhD in the History of Science at Harvard University and a Masters in Library and Information Science from UCLA. Selya came to archival work after nearly twenty years as an historian of twentieth century American biomedicine, focusing on the history of molecular biology, cancer research, and neuroscience. Her work emphasizes the social and political context and applications of biomedical research. Selya has taught the history of science and medicine as well as American history at Harvard University, UCLA, and Santa Monica College. In addition, she has been a medical writer and was part of a UCLA team that researched and wrote a multi-media history of the Society for Neuroscience. Her publications include a study of how American Jewish schools teach evolution as well as an article on the Genetics Society of America’s response to the Lysenko controversy. Her biography of Salvador Luria is available from The MIT Press.