- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
Besides the AACC, I am a member of the College of American Pathologists (on Standards Committee) and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (Education Committee). I also participate on a CLSI Quality Control Subcommittee. I am lucky enough to be on the Editorial Boards for Diabetes Technology and Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
The easiest way is to have a "Godfather," an external professional individual who is interested in advancing your career. I have been lucky enough to have a few of these individuals. Help from a "Godfather" is like being at the end of a roller derby pack and then getting whipped up to the front with a huge amount of kinetic energy. When you are up at the front, there may be a few people watching and evaluating you. Work hard and you will enjoy the fruits of professional success. The much more difficult way is to work hard and hope to get noticed. If you are lucky, the "Godfather" will notice.
- How did you discover laboratory medicine?
During my chemistry undergraduate, I discovered computer science and did enough courses to be accepted into a program leading to a master's degree in computer science. One of my analytical chemistry professors said that I should combine chemistry and computer science, which I did at the University of Wisconsin under Eric Clifford Toren. There I did a multidisciplinary PhD in Clinical Laboratory Science. I was lucky enough to work with a host of role model clinical chemists, including Jim Westgard, Merle Evenson, Ian Carlson, Neill Carey and Ron Laessig. They inspired me to attend medical school after my PhD. During my residency, I resolved to do research and write at least one scientific paper in each of my clinical rotations – I did not do so well in Transfusion Medicine.
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
I like to be thought of as a generalist; I still am doing developmental work in hematology – either dabbling in hematology quality control and reference intervals. I run point of care in the Edmonton region and the core chemistry laboratory at the University of Alberta Hospital. I like the laboratory disciplines that produce numerical information, information that can be graphed, correlated and analyzed. Today, my big interests are laboratory quality and laboratory utilization.
- What in your opinion has been the most important advancement in science you've seen in your career and why?
The most important advancement is the ubiquity of the digital computer. Data can be analyzed and fed back to the user at light speed.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
Most western health care systems are rapidly becoming unsustainable, partially because of huge, highly expensive technological innovations which probably do not improve the health of the general population, the obesity epidemic and its attendant diseases and unrestrained demand by the unsophisticated health care customer. The next "big thing" in laboratory medicine will be helping clinicians to deal with patients with fewer (and cheaper) tests. It is my intention to start a consulting company to help large health systems reduce their expenditures on laboratory testing.
- You've focused much of your career on laboratory quality and analytical variation. In this area or any other, what, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I am always most proud of my most current accomplishment. Currently, it is a data mining approach that can be used to derive biologic variation. This approach can also be used to compare the ultimate clinical usefulness of any laboratory instrument, based strictly on the numerical analysis of patient specimens.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
Sometimes the rewards are just in starting a new job, for example, moving to a really big city and starting work at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania or running a large multisite group practice laboratory associated with one of the most prestigious clinics in Minnesota. When I came to Edmonton, I worked in probably the best integrated health care region in North America. Challenging moments included laboratory computerization and placing bets with the COO in order to mitigate interference from the CIO.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I am not a good role model. Everything I do, I do to the max.
- Role models play an important role in the development of any career.
Who are the role models or mentors that have positively impacted your career? I have had a raft of role models including my high school science and math teachers, my undergraduate analytical chemistry professor, my PhD supervisor, Jim Westgard, and Bernie Corenblum an endocrinologist at the University of Calgary Medical School.
- If you could start your career again, what would you do differently?
When Bernie Statland and I were both between jobs at in 1996, Bernie asked me the same question. I told him that I would become a lawyer and participate in mergers and acquisitions. Now 20 years later, I have more inner peace and greater satisfaction with work. I might not do anything differently.
- As you have spent much of your career working in Canada do you have any insights or unique perspective on the changes taking place in the U.S. healthcare system?
Actually, I have spent a lot of years in the US of A, in graduate school, in clinical pathology residency and holding 2 real jobs between 1983 and 1997. While parts of the United States health care system are amazing, there are many weaknesses including non-universality, high overhead, high costs and lack of emphasis on preventive care. There is high risk that the US health care system is unsustainable. This nonsustainability almost guarantees that my future consulting will flourish, not only in North America but also in Europe.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves?
It is said that most "successful" people have a life plan that starts in early childhood. For me, my career development was a continuous detour. In our increasingly uncertain work environments, we need to be as flexible as possible. I have found it necessary to "work on my work" integrating my work activities with efforts that sustained my interests. Any suggestions on how to achieve them? Network extensively and do not be afraid to call lots and lots of experts. Do plenty of reading, both the clinical laboratory literature and the continuously published lay science literature.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Medical technologists know so much. I hope that you work in a quality improvement culture where they could teach you copious information that would be directly translatable into process improvement. Keep hiring students; set great expectations and they will learn hugely and help you to achieve your academic/career goals.
- Finally one question for fun: Living in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, do you have any tips on staying warm in January when the average daily low temperature is -17oC (~1oF)?
Last winter, I flew to Vancouver for several EMBA weekends. Despite some rain, it was delightful. Just like in Minnesota, one must make travel plans to leave the frigid climate.