American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
November 2006 Mentor of the Month Interview: Lori Sokoll
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?
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 currently an Associate Professor of Pathology, Urology, and Oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. I am also Associate Director of the Clinical Chemistry Division at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    My undergraduate degree is in Biological Sciences from Cornell University. I was introduced to clinical chemistry through a biochemistry lab course and went on to get a Master of Clinical Chemistry degree from Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. I then returned to my hometown of Boston and worked as a research assistant at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University for 6 years in a research-focused clinical lab doing research on calcium and bone metabolism. During this time I started work on a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition Sciences at Tufts. After I received my degree, I entered the clinical chemistry postdoctoral program at Johns Hopkins University and joined the faculty following completion of the two-year program.
    I didn’t see a question about the role of mentors in my career, so I will ask and answer it myself! I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful mentors throughout my education and career. This gives me an opportunity to especially acknowledge and thank my mentors at Johns Hopkins, Daniel W. Chan and Jim Nichols.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am certified as a clinical chemist by the NRCC.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I am active in the Capital Section and Clinical and Diagnostic Immunology Division of the AACC and serve on committees at the AACC national level. I am also involved in NACB and am a commissioner for ComACC.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    In the clinical lab I am director of the special chemistry lab and am currently the director of the automated general chemistry lab. My research is focused in the area of cancer biomarkers. In the area of teaching, I am the co-director of our clinical chemistry postdoctoral program and also teach clinical pathology residents in addition to our fellows.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    The interest in endocrinology and related methodologies stems from my graduate work and previous research experience. The area of tumor markers was an interest of my mentor and his laboratory group. Cancer is a strong research area at my institution and there are many opportunities for collaboration with the oncology and urology groups.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My primary research interest is the investigation of serum tumor markers for the early detection, diagnosis, staging, and monitoring of cancer. Our focus is to develop new tumor markers and to develop new applications for existing markers in order to increase their clinical utility. We are primarily studying markers for prostate cancer and breast cancer. Other research interests include immunoassay automation and intraoperative hormone measurements. Clinically, I am director of the special chemistry lab which covers tumor markers, endocrine tests, and immunoassay technology, which fits nicely with my research interests.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    I hope that our research in tumor markers for prostate cancer, particularly with respect to the molecular forms of PSA, has contributed to the detection and management of the disease as well as to the understanding of the analytical issues involved.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    I don’t find anything unappealing personally (frustrating, maybe!). I do wish there was more recognition for our staff/laboratory/profession for our valuable role in patient care. It would be nice to get out of the basement.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    One of the most rewarding aspects has been seeing our graduating fellows become successful and productive clinical chemists. We have former students in academic and community hospital, diagnostics, biotech, and regulatory positions.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    That’s something I am not very good at, so I am not the best person to give any advice. However, have priorities and try to say no to unnecessary commitments which is not so easy to do early, or even later, in your career.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    Every day is different and a challenge whether it is addressing a clinical issue, working on a research study, or teaching our students (our mission at Hopkins). We have a great group of clinical chemists, supervisors, and technologists on both the clinical and research side and I enjoy interacting with them. I am always learning.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    The genomics and proteomics revolution will affect what we measure, the technologies we use to measure, and how we interpret the results as there is a transition from the bench to the bedside. Also, there will be a continued emphasis on automation and improved communication of information to our clinicians.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    There will likely be many job and other opportunities for young scientists, but that will be in the face of staff shortages and other financial pressures. It will be challenging to keep abreast of changes in our field as well as in healthcare delivery as a whole.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Do the best you can do in whatever type of position you choose in clinical chemistry. Be a resource for your colleagues and medical staff and focus (a favorite word of my department chair) on a particular area if you can. Find a mentor and collaborators and learn from them. Get involved in AACC and other organizations. Enjoy what you do.
  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.
    I have had great experiences from my local section participation and from my involvement on the annual meeting organizing committee in 2005 and as a liaison to the CAP TDM/Endo Committee. I have also found the NACB LMPG committees to be especially valuable. You really do get back much more than you put in. I have benefited professionally, scientifically, and socially. Most importantly, I’ve met lots of great people, clinical chemists as well as the staff at the AACC.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    I became involved in my local AACC section when I was a fellow through my mentors at Johns Hopkins who were active in the section. I became the continuing education officer which has become a tradition for our fellows to hold that office. Volunteering for local section as well as division activities is an excellent way to get involved. SYCL is also a great entry.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius