American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
June 2007 Mentor of the Month Q&A Session: Karen Nickel
Welcome to SYCL's Mentor of the Month.  Questions and Answers will be displayed below...

Dr. Nickel- What are your thoughts on individual states (e.g. New York) monitoring the qualifications of laboratories outside their state. While it is good to have checks and balances, isn't that what CAP and board certifications are for? If all states decided to get on the bandwagon, the laboratories would never get any clinical testing done since we'd be constantly preparing for inspections, submitting our SOPs, and updating our COQs. I am interested to know your thoughts on this subject.
Fort Worth, TX

Karen Nickel
California is another state that requires licensure of laboratories outside CA when they do testing on specimens originating from our state. The lawmakers thought that the Department of Health should be responsible for assuring quality of testing on CA residents no matter where it is done. This is hard for us because lots of states have different standards than California, yet they want to be licensed and do testing. For example, we cannot license a laboratory that employs non-baccalaureate level, non-certified persons to do high complexity testing. Similarly, a laboratory outside our state that allows a cytotech to perform 100 Pap tests per day would violate our state law and could not be licensed. Why can’t every state rely on accreditation of laboratories? Only about 40% of the non-waived labs in the US are accredited. What would happen with the rest? Also, the accrediting organizations have told us they do not want to assure compliance with unique state laws in a laboratory that they accredit. They only want to assure compliance with federal law pursuant to their being granted deemed status.

Dr. Nickel- You have a wide variety of experience in your career: academia, industry, and now, government. Could you highlight some of the pros and cons a clinical chemist might encounter in each of these settings?
Durham, NC

Karen Nickel
Thank you for this question as it requires a pleasant reflection. Academia is great because you can interact with students, do fun research and have a sense of freedom. The pay may not be as good as industry, but your parents are proud of you! A position in industry pays well but is not so secure. Despite working very hard, I think I was laid off 3 times by laboratories which were bought and sold. That is really upsetting. A position in a commercial lab gives a person lots of opportunities to learn new technology, business and management skills. The vendors "wine and dine" you to get your attention. The last, government, is the best for me right now. It is secure, the pay is steady, it is respectable and you can have an impact on health care. The vendors ignore you because they know you cant easily buy anything. However, the public respects and appreciates what you do; even if my friends in the neighborhood at home still don't know what I do.