June 2007 Mentor of the Month Interview: Karen Nickel
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?
    Chief of Laboratory Field Services, California Department of Health Services.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I started as a biochemist with a strong analytical chemistry emphasis and really did not know anything about clinical chemistry. After getting my PhD, I taught college biochemistry and quantitative analysis for several years. I then heard about clinical chemistry. I found out you needed a license in California , so I managed to get the post-doctoral training required for licensure, got the lower and then higher level licenses and was “on my way”!! That was 35 years ago and it has really been fun.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    ABCC, NABCC, NRCC, California licensed Clinical Chemist
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    AACC, CLMA, CAMLT, CAB, ASCLS
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    I love the outdoors, gardening, bicycling, and kayaking. For the last 6 years, my husband and I have biked in Europe, last summer all the way across Sweden . I also enjoy woodworking and built my own Japanese teahouse with post and beam construction and triple-curved roof.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    I used to really enjoy clinical endocrinology. We got into RIA years ago and that really changed testing in that area. That was fun and interesting. We used to set up our own assays when there were no kits available. I loved directing Steroid Endocrinology at BioScience in VanNuys , CA . After I left BioScience, I got into laboratory management and pretty soon was not in the lab too much. After 22 years working/directing clinical laboratories, I took the job as Chief of laboratories in California and have been doing that for 14+years now. The last job has been a constant learning experience as we are responsible for both state and federal law for clinical labs and personnel, plus blood and tissue banks.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    The job with the state was a fluke, it was unplanned. The opening came up and I applied for the position and got the job. I am the first chief who came in from “outside” government. The lesson is, keep your options open and be ready for new challenges.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    As head of the laboratory oversight program in California , I am subjected to interactions with blood banks, pathology, molecular diagnostics, internet ordering, autoverification, tissue and organ donations, and occasionally fraud . . . you name it. I love the variety and challenges. I feel broadly informed but not a specialist anymore.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    I think working for the state has opened up new horizons. It is unusual for a person working in the private sector to get the opportunity to make good changes in government. I think everything happens first and worst in California , and I love being involved. I am having trouble retiring.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Everything is fun.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    Getting changes made in laboratory law in California . I was able to get genetic testing recognized as a specialty license so persons outside the state could work here. There are now nearly 600 persons newly working in California since 2003. We also got phlebotomists certified and now there are 22,000 of them in our state. We finally got autoverification approved and now certification exams for CA licensure.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    A person has to have lots of energy. Take advantage of those empty nest years when your kids are through college, married and settled. Those are the golden years when life is fun and you are free to fly. It helps to have a husband who is sympathetic with long work days and a busy schedule.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    I don't practice lab medicine but interact with those who do. I am enjoying seeing public expectations put pressure on physicians for better service, better lab tests, and quicker diagnoses.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I see more pressure for self-ordered tests, internet consultation and results, less face-to-face time with physicians. Businesses want to provide sonograms, radiology, lab tests to the public, avoiding physicians.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Genetic testing. Everything is molecular diagnostics now and that is great. I would get right into that.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Get as good an education as possible. Get your board certification. Get involved professionally.
  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 try to stay active in AACC but now my horizons have broadened to cover the whole lab and then some. I give lots of talks to organizations on lab issues.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    As a young woman 38 years ago when I joined southern CA AACC, there were no other women who attended the meetings. It was hard to get started, but gradually the old guys warmed up and started to interact. Pretty soon I was involved. In a couple of years I was the SoCA section chairperson, later served on the AACC Board of Directors, and then became AACC President. I am happy that more women belong to AACC now and attend meetings. My AACC work has led to friendships that I still have now.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Please consider government as an option to research, hospital or commercial labs. There are government labs at the city, state, county and federal level that need good people. There is a real demand for inspectors and persons to enforce quality standards. I wish I had started this job before I did.
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