American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
September 2006 Mentor of the Month Interview: D. Robert Dufour
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. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  14. 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?
    I am a Consultant for Clinical Chemistry at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington DC, and Emeritus Professor of Pathology at George Washington University Medical Center. I retired as Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Washington DC VA Medical Center in December of 2004.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    My undergraduate degree was in chemistry (with an emphasis in analytical chemistry), and I considered taking a job as an analytical chemist and attending graduate school, but chose to go to medical school instead, ultimately specializing in pathology. I began my career as pathologist for clinical chemistry in the Navy, then moved to the VA in a similar position, ultimately becoming laboratory director. I retired from that position in December of 2004.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am certified by the American Board of Pathology in Anatomic/Clinical Pathology, with subspecialty certification in Chemical Pathology
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    In addition to AACC, I am a Fellow of NACB and the College of American Pathologists, as well as a member of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases; I have also been a member of the American Society for Clinical Pathology and the Endocrine Society, but am no longer an active member in either of these groups.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      I am married and have four adult children. My wife is also a pathologist.
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      Singing, travel, photography
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      China, Egypt, and many of the US National Parks and lighthouses
    • Favorite book/movie
      Book – “The Source” by James Michner; Movie – “The Princess Bride”
    • Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
      Not particularly adventurous, but traveling around the world was the most fun thing I have done.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    My main areas of interest within the field are in liver disease (particularly viral hepatitis) and endocrine laboratory testing.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    I picked endocrine as my major area of interest because of its logic and intricate connections between different systems, and its heavy reliance on laboratory testing for diagnosis. My interest in liver disease has increased over time with my active involvement with hepatitis serology testing and my becoming the VA resource person for hepatitis related testing issues, and hepatitis testing now occupies the majority of my time.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My main clinical interests remain in endocrine and liver disease. In the past, I have done research in cardiac markers. With my involvement with the Institute for Quality in Laboratory Medicine, I have become increasingly interested in issues relating to improving laboratory quality.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    I would rate two: being involved as head of the NACB Laboratory Medicine Practice Guidelines on Hepatic Disease, and directing the AACC/NACB “Professional Practice in Clinical Chemistry” review course from 1990 (its initial year) through 2003.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    While I have been involved with administration for a long time, I find it to be what I liked least about being a laboratory director.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    The most rewarding moments of my career come when I help the physicians caring for a patient make the direct diagnosis. I have been involved in making rounds on the wards with our residents and directly interacting with physicians where they work; I think this has been the most rewarding part of my job. The most challenging moments of my career have usually involved working with people to resolve differences (as a manager) and solve personnel problems – a part of the job that many laboratory professionals ultimately will face.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    I think it is important to put limits on your work time. It is very easy (and I did it) to get so committed to your job that your family and outside activities may take a back seat. As I have become more mature in my job, I have learned two important skills: delegating to others and learning to say “no”.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    The challenges placed in identifying critical laboratory results and helping physicians make correct diagnoses are the most exciting parts of my practice. I also love teaching, both residents and fellows, as well as our laboratory staff, and I find this to be exciting to me. I think the need to keep up in the field needed to be an effective teacher helps to keep you interested and involved.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I think the area where the greatest advances will come are in information. In the laboratory, we do a good job reporting DATA, but are not as good at conveying INFORMATION. I see a growing need, with the explosion of new laboratory tests, for laboratory professionals to interact with physicians and assure that the critical information contained in the data is ultimately used in the care of patients. The growing pressure to move testing closer to the patient will still require a need to extract information from the data.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    I think a major challenge is the ability to serve in this role of information transfer. With the continual pressure to reduce costs, laboratorians will need to show how the information (not just the data) they provide adds to the value of laboratory testing.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Any suggestions on how to achieve them? – I think specific goals should include increasing the value you provide to your organization, whatever that may be, and developing personal mastery (increasing the depth and breadth of your knowledge) in your field of work. If you don’t already have it, the ability to speak and write clearly is critical to being an effective communicator.
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    There are lots of opportunities to give back to your profession and organizations. The simplest is monetary – not only pay your dues, but consider contributing to philanthropic efforts, such as the Van Slyke Foundation. Give back to your profession by getting involved – volunteer your time for teaching, even if it is simply those you supervise; judging science fairs; speaking to consumer groups; or participate in volunteer and elected offices in your areas of interest.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    As a junior scientist, I was a “user” of services, and didn’t know how to get involved. The easiest ways involved finding out local groups of individuals (in the AACC, the local sections) or those with similar interests (such as the AACC divisions). Start by asking what you can do to help. Offer to give a talk on a topic you have particular expertise in; don’t sell yourself short and think that, just because you are young, you don’t have something important to offer. Those of us who have been in the field for a while may not be as “up to date” on topics as you are! Get out there and meet other people. Don’t be afraid of or discouraged by “rejection”; several of the biggest names in the field have lost elections on their first or second try, only to be elected later.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    You probably have heard this from others, but every organization needs to have young members develop and become leaders for the future. Your involvement is important not only to you professionally, but also to the future of your profession!