American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
July 2005 Mentor of the Month Interview: Mary Burritt
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  7. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  8. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  9. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  10. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  11. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
  12. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  13. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
    • Professor of Laboratory Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of MedicineMedical Co-Director, Central Clinical Laboratory, Mayo Clinic
    • Director, Metals Laboratory, Mayo Clinic
    • Associate Dean, Mayo School of Health Sciences, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    • 1966 BA Chemistry (magna Cum laude), Clarke College, Dubuque, IA
    • 1966-68 Graduate School in Biochem, University of California Riverside
    • 1968-71 Research Technologist, Cook County Hospital, Chicago, IL
    • 1971-74 PhD Biochemistry, University of Illinois Medical Center, Chicago
    • 1974-76 Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Immunology, Mayo Clinic
    • 1976-78 Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Clinical Chemistry, Mayo Clinic
    • 1978-81 Associate Consultant, General Chemistry Lab, Mayo Clinic
    • 1981-96 Director, General Chemistry Laboratory, Mayo Clinic
    • 1996- Medical Co-Director, Central Clinical Lab, Mayo Clinic
    • 1997- Director, Metals Laboratory, Mayo Clinic
    • 1991-99 Director, Post-Doctoral Training Program in Clin Chem, Mayo Clinic
    • 2000- Associate Dean, Mayo School of Health Sciences, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am board certified by the American Board of Bioanalysis.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I’m currently involved in AACC, NACB, IFCC, CLSI and ISO/TC 212. I was previously a member of CLIAC.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      My favorite activities are reading, biking, walking and traveling.
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      I started scuba diving 4 years ago and am hooked--big time. I have about 145 dives so far, am a certified Master Diver, and don’t plan to quit any time soon. I try to take a couple of dive vacations a year, mostly to the Caribbean—needless to say I’m a big fan of both warm weather and warm water. So far, my favorite dive location is Belize.
    • Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
      Besides diving, the most adventurous thing I have done is my trip this June to Kenya and Tanzania for a picture safari (and a little diving in Zanzibar after the safari).
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    I specialize in automated/STAT clinical chemistry testing, cardiac markers and metals testing (heavy metals, trace elements, etc).
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    I started as a post-doctoral fellow in the General Chemistry Lab at Mayo, implemented ionized calcium testing in the lab and developed a strong research/development interest in this area. I also was involved as the lab began to automate testing, particularly STAT testing. When a position became available, I was appointed as Director of the General Chemistry Lab. In 1997 I also became the Director of the Metals Lab.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My clinical and research interests include cardiac markers (for ACS and risk assessment), and heavy and trace metals in neurological conditions.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    My main contribution in the research area involves ionized calcium testing (clinical use, circadian rhythms, relationship with PTH). I think some of our current work involving essential and trace metals may prove to be very significant. Overall though I think my most important contribution is my service to the field of clinical chemistry through my involvement in AACC, NACB, IFCC and CLSI (formerly NCCLS).
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    There really aren’t any areas that I find unappealing; however, some of the coding and billing issues, although very important, are not my favorite topics.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    Some of my most rewarding moments involve the successes of the labs I’m involved with, the opportunity to thank and reward the lab supervisors and staff for the incredible job that they do, and to see the people I work with achieve success in their individual careers. It was also hugely rewarding for me to serve as President of the AACC in the past and currently as President of the NACB. I think my most challenging times have involved significant reorganization/reengineering in the lab, and issues involving method and calibrator traceability for chemistry.
  7. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    I think the most exciting thing about working today is the explosion of new tests and potential new tests brought about by the human genome project and related activities. We’re able to do things that we didn’t even consider possible 20 years ago.
  8. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I see increased automation of all processes in the lab, particularly the increased use of middleware or rules-based computer systems to screen lab results prior to release, hold results that violate the rules, and make decisions based on the combination of test results. I also see increased use of POCT, an explosion of genetic tests and increased use of proteomics for patient care.
  9. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    I think the field is wide open for the young scientists; their biggest issue may be choosing an area of focus. They will deal with the issues of work/life balance as we all have and in addition, have dealt and will continue to deal with declining reimbursement and workforce shortages.
  10. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    The younger scientist needs to identify an area or focus in the lab that he/she finds interesting and exciting and, with the help of a mentor, begin to develop skills and an expertise in that area. This includes enhanced skills in both research and teaching. A post-doctoral training program in Clinical Chemistry is a great way to begin this search. As the younger person sets goals and moves forward, I strongly recommend involvement in AACC; this is a great way to make contacts, network and enhance your skills. Most of the mentors that I had as a young clinical chemist were colleagues and senior scientists that I met through my involvement in AACC.
  11. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    The main reason that I have been able to contribute to the profession was because my employer, Mayo Clinic, understood that involvement in professional associations was very important and because I have had wonderful supervisors and terrific technologists in the lab who made it possible for me to travel. The lab ran well whether I was there or not due to their dedication and commitment. I got involved in AACC in my Local Section (the Midwest Section) and then had the opportunity to get involved at the national level. This included the House of Delegates, the Critical and Point of Care Division, the Board of Directors and finally as President in 1996. I was also fortunate to chair the 2000 AACC Annual Meeting Organizing Committee. I am currently President of the NACB, the Academy of AACC, and am also Vice Chair of the Education and Management Division of the IFCC. I have served in the past as Chair of the Area Committee for Clinical Chemistry in CLSI and also as a member of CLIAC.
  12. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    I got started in AACC in the Midwest Section and from there was elected as a representative to the House of Delegates. I was elected Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee (then a House Committee) and as such, actually sat on the AACC Board of Directors (BOD) as a House representative. About the same time, then AACC President Jack Ladenson called and asked if would be interested in starting a new division dealing with electrolytes and blood gases; and soon after the Electrolyte/Blood Gas Division was born (it was recently merged with the POCT Division to give the CPOCT Division). From there I served as a member of the BOD and then was elected President of the association. I think there are a number of opportunities for young members—divisions, local sections, House of Delegates, NACB. There is not any one way that is best—volunteer for an activity in which you have a strong interest and be willing to give a little of your personal time. And of course, if you make a commitment to do something, follow thru and do it! It may seem that you are loosing some of your “own” time but you will be rewarded a thousand fold for your efforts—as the commercial says, the contacts, the networking, the friendships and the satisfaction of giving to your profession “are priceless”!
  13. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and my “story’ in AACC. For the SYCL members, this is a great time in your career; you have unlimited possibilities, a field that is changing rapidly and the opportunity to go as far as you want to go. I’d encourage all of you to get involved in AACC and its Academy, the NACB, to give a little of your time and cultivate and appreciate the friendships that you will make. Your colleagues will become lifelong friends and your life will be richer for it.