- What is your job title and affiliation?
Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, University of Utah Health Sciences Center
Medical Director of Analytic Biochemistry and co-Medical Director for Calculi and Mass Spectrometry, ARUP Laboratories, Inc. Laboratory Director, University Health Care Hospitals & Clinics Central Laboratory
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
I studied biology and chemistry at a liberal arts college (Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado). I wanted to work in a hospital laboratory and I was familiar with medical technology because two of my hometown neighbors had become medical technologists so, after graduation, I applied for clinical internships in medical technology. I completed an internship at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs and worked at the hospital for several years before I entered graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I earned a PhD in Organic Chemistry, worked briefly as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and then joined the faculty at Saint Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where I taught general, organic, and clinical chemistry; biochemistry; and forensic science. In 1998, I moved to Utah to pursue postdoctoral training in Clinical Chemistry at the University of Utah; I accepted a position in the Department of Pathology in 2001.
- What are your Board certifications?
I am certified as a Medical Technologist by the American Society for Clinical Pathology and certified in clinical chemistry by the American Board of Clinical Chemistry.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I am active in AACC and in the Rocky Mountain AACC section. I am a Fellow of the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry. I have served as a director of the American Board of Clinical Chemistry and the Commission on Accreditation in Clinical Chemistry, and I am the current Secretary Treasurer of the Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists (ACLPS).
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
- Favorite activities/hobbies
I am interested in environmental and historic preservation. I enjoy many physical activities, particularly those that involve water in its various physical states – swimming, snow sports, and ice hockey. I am fond of ballet and bicycling as well.
- Favorite places you have traveled
The western United States, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, and Europe
- Favorite book/movie
I enjoy reading science and the classics. Although the books stacked on my bedside table are Basic Principles of Classical Ballet, Roberts Rules of Order, and Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
Several of my college friends and I went train hopping during a break between classes. We traveled from Colorado through Wyoming to Salt Lake City and rode a flat car home through the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River on a glorious autumn day.
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
Chromatographic techniques for measurement of small biological molecules, and education and training of laboratory personnel and clinical chemists
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
I like to think about biologically active molecules and how their structures affect their functions. In graduate school, I chose to work in a lab that concentrated on elucidating the reaction mechanisms of the chemotherapeutic agents daunomycin and mitomycin C. We used fundamental organic chemistry techniques such as compound purification, identification, and concentration measurement. Clinical chemistry is a practical application of these techniques.
The primary mission of the clinical laboratory is to serve the person whose specimen we are testing by producing and reporting an accurate and timely result. Successful pursuit of this goal requires development of robust laboratory tests and training of laboratory staff in the appropriate use of the methods.
- Were there any mentors that were instrumental in your career development? Please describe.
Dr. Norbert Tietz - by way of the Tietz series of textbooks. I used the 2nd edition of the Fundamentals of Clinical Chemistry as a medical technology student, and used the book again as a resource for teaching an investigative laboratory course. Students selected a method from the book and used an archive of AutoAnalyzer parts, donated to the university when the local hospital purchased new instrumentation, to configure an instrument for the method.
As I was finishing my graduate work, I called Dr. Mary Burritt at the Mayo Clinic to inquire into clinical chemistry fellowship programs. Dr. Burritt told me everything I needed to know about choosing a fellowship program and has continued to provide valuable insight into the profession.
Dr. Owen Ash called me when he received my application to the fellowship program at the University of Utah. I eventually found my way to Utah and I continue to find Dr. Ash’s “Management Maxims” instructive.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
Laboratory testing for the diagnosis of porphyrias and assessment of nutritional status by measurement of vitamin concentrations
ARUP is a reference laboratory with a large sample volume and an esoteric test menu. Consequently we see varied and interesting results. Unlike a hospital lab that tests inpatient specimens, the challenge of the reference laboratory is to provide useful information without knowledge of or access to the patient.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
Teaching and guiding young scientists.
I have been fortunate to have worked with students who have pursued careers in the health sciences and who continue to rely on me as a mentor. It is always a pleasure to see students succeed.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
There are things I enjoy more than others. All jobs include some tedious tasks. For those chores I have to fool myself into getting started and then devise a system to complete the work expeditiously.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
It has been most rewarding for me to be recognized by my students. Several years ago I was complimented by an invitation to address students in the Laboratory Medicine Masters program at their graduation. I am honored to be asked by SYCL to be interviewed as a mentor.
During the 2002 Olympic Winter Games I volunteered as an Athlete Escort for Doping Control. It was an interesting and unique opportunity to assist in the laboratory’s role in the Olympics.
The most challenging aspect for me is giving sufficient attention to everything that calls for my time. Rather than complain to friends and colleagues, I try to adopt Ann Gronowski’s “I can do that” attitude and maintain the pace.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
This is a true challenge. Perhaps it is possible if you consider balance over the long run rather than on a daily basis, that is by working to achieve life goals sequentially rather than consecutively. Do take time off or request a special working arrangement if you need it, but be prepared to step up and do more at another time.
I advocate taking time out regularly to do something completely different. I play a team sport. We practice one evening a week and play games on the weekends. The schedule doesn’t conflict with work activities and it’s a refreshing break.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
Each day is different and every day provides new opportunities to learn.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
We are seeing improvements in separation technologies that shorten assay time. I hope we will see continued progress in the automation of the tedious repetitive operations required for processing specimens. We should see identification of proteomic markers and development of assays for their use in the clinical laboratory, new pharmacogenetic assays in routine use, and standardization of quality control for molecular genetic testing.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
Mastering the broad body of knowledge that comprises the field and becoming adept at interfacing with medical practitioners
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Learn how you learn and how you work best so that you can be most effective. Volunteer for leadership positions and practice mentoring your colleagues.
You may not have control over the duties assigned to you, but you can approach the work of assigned tasks with an awareness that you will learn and benefit from the effort it takes to complete them.
I am a firm believer in the adage “Of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Give something back. Use your skills to contribute to your profession.
- 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 AACC has been a valuable resource for me throughout my career. I have served the organization as Chair of the Rocky Mountain section, as a member of the Annual Meeting Abstract Review Subcommittee, and as a judge for the Student Research Awards. In addition, I am on the NACB Awards Committee and I review scientific articles submitted to the journal.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
Wandering through the opening mixer at the first AACC Annual Meeting I attended, I found an empty chair. I asked to join the group at the table and was introduced to members of the leadership of the Rocky Mountain section. They have guided me and nourished me since that moment. My program directors at the University of Utah, Drs. Ed Ashwood and Kern Nuttall, encouraged me to become involved in AACC committee work. My advice: talk to persons you don’t know and also rely on those you do know.
Educate yourself. The AACC website is a terrific source of information about the organization and the profession. The AACC staff is knowledgeable and always helpful. We are lucky to have the support of such a well-run organization.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
I am excited by the enthusiasm and capabilities of the younger clinical chemists coming into the field. I suggest participation in SYCL as a means to become involved in your profession and to become acquainted with other young laboratorians.