April 24, 2018

Rick Wallace | Movers & Shakers 2002

Preaching the Gospel of Health

Preaching the gospel of health info

Originally, the plan was for Rick Wallace to be a minister–perhaps the only profession from which librarianship is a financial step up in the world. When he worked at the campus medical library, though, he realized he could minister to people’s needs by giving them and their doctors trustworthy information for life-and-death decisions.

As outreach librarian, Wallace first had to put a system in place. He won a grant to install computers, Internet connections, medical databases, and direct links to the university’s interlibrary loan service in clinics in the remotest areas of northeast Tennessee. In a state that ranks 50th in per capita funding for higher education, he says you just have to get creative about using and finding the money.


Current position: Outreach/Circuit Librarian, East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Quillen College of Medicine/Northeast Tennessee Area Health Education Center, Johnson City

Degree: MSLS, University of Tennessee/Knoxville, 1994, M.Div. Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1990; currently working on Ed.D. program at ETSU

Active in: Medical Library Association, Tennessee Health Science Library Association

It’s not enough to have a system, though; you have to train people to use it. Wallace spends much of his life driving the winding roads of Tennessee, visiting hospitals, clinics, and medical meetings, making sure medical practitioners know that they can request a Medline search and have the articles delivered to their computer screens nearly instantaneously–possibly before the patient has finished getting dressed following the examination.

To get doctors used to keeping up with the medical literature, Wallace is now working with young M.D.’s in training on an evidence-based medicine project. He accompanies them on rounds, takes notes on the questions they ask, quickly searches the medical literature, and places relevant articles into their hands.

But he also thinks patients deserve direct access to health information. That’s why he worked to win grant money for a consumer health project and has been working with the Medical Library Association to develop a consumer health credentialing program.

Though the venue has changed, Wallace has never really stopped being a minister. The work he does is profoundly moral, he says, because people need information like they need food, water, and sunlight.