- What is your job title and affiliation?
I am Chief of the Clinical Chemistry Branch, Division of Laboratory Sciences, National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
I received my B.S. in chemistry form Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA in 1971. In 1975 I received my Ph.D. in analytical chemistry with a minor in organic chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology. After graduating from Georgia Tech, I worked for a year in the research department of the P.H. Glatfelter Paper Company in my hometown of Spring Grove, PA. In July of 1976, I was hired by the CDC as a research chemist and began a career in public health service that has spanned more than 30 years.
- What are your Board certifications?
I maintain no Board certifications.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I have been a member of AACC since 1988 and currently have the distinct honor of serving as the AACC President. I am also a Fellow of the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry.
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
39 years ago in 1968 I married my high school sweetheart, Adrienne Holtzapple. We have two beautiful daughters, Robin Scott, 37 who is a physical therapist and Amy Finke, 31 who is a pediatric nurse. We have two wonderful grand children Alec Scott (8), and Kylie Scott (2) and Ella Finke due in September. Our two sons-in-law, Brent Scott and Brian Finke, are pretty good too.
- Favorite activities/hobbies
I enjoy coaching youth sports. For the past 30 years I have coached girl’s basketball at the youth league level and more recently as a varsity coach at the high school level. I have also coached baseball and football in my younger days. I like playing tennis, boating, and whitewater rafting.
- Favorite places you have traveled
I have really been very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to so many great locations with my job and as AACC President it is hard to pick favorites. However, I think one place that is more special that others is Ireland. Adrienne, Amy and I were stranded in Ireland for 6 additional days after 9/11 and the Irish people could not have been more gracious and caring during that difficult time.
- Favorite book/movie
I enjoy books by Jeffrey Deaver. My favorite movie is Forbidden Planet (1954). I also like the Star Trek movies. I am a science fiction fan.
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
Rafting the Chatuga and Gauley Rivers.
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
I have spent most of my 30+ years at CDC working to improve the laboratory testing of biochemical markers for chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more recently chronic kidney disease.
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
I can’t say that I really chose the area that I now work in. It sort of chose me. When I started at CDC, the Division I worked in was the Clinical Chemistry Division where the majority of the work was focused on developing reference methods and reference materials for standardizing clinical chemistry tests. I was assigned to the lipid standardization program under Dr. Gerald Cooper where we worked to standardize cholesterol, HDL and triglyceride measurements in clinical trials. Trials such as the Lipid Research Clinics (LRC), the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT) and others were investigating various risk factors for heart disease. I immediately saw the relevance and importance of what we were doing in trying to insure the quality of the laboratory tests and decided that from a public health perspective this was what I wanted to do.
- Were there any mentors that were instrumental in your career development? Please describe.
There definitely are several mentors that have had a significant impact on my career development. First were my undergraduate professors in the chemistry department at Elizabethtown College. When I entered college my goal was to get my B.S. degree in chemistry and go to work in industry. Graduate school was not on my calendar. However, fortunately for me the philosophy of the E-Town chemistry department faculty was to prepare chemistry students for either graduate or medical school. Their guidance and influence helped shape my thinking, which resulted in my decision to obtain a PhD in chemistry. Without their initial nurturing I would not be where I am today. The person that had the biggest influence on my early career at CDC and continues today was Dr. Gerald Cooper. He is fondly known around CDC as the “Father of cholesterol”. I learned so much from him about standardization, lipid chemistry, cardiovascular disease and so much more. At 93, Dr. Cooper continues to work every day at CDC and continues to be an inspiration for me and so many other scientists at CDC. The other individual that has had a significant impact on my career has been Dr. Greg Miller. I met Dr. Miller through our common interest in standardization of laboratory testing. He is the epitome of what I consider a clinical chemist to be. Our collaboration on numerous projects has been very educational and especially rewarding. I consider Dr. Miller an outstanding scientist and a personal friend.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
As you may have guessed by now my area of clinical interest lies in the area of biochemical markers used for assessing risk for certain chronic diseases. Having suitable standards to serve as the accuracy base for clinical testing is very important to insuring reliable diagnostic tests. I am very interested in research directed at developing these needed standard methods and materials.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
Teaching others about the importance of laboratory standardization and the need for traceability to standards to insure quality in laboratory testing.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
I have worked for the government for 30+ years so you can imagine there are annoyances with the bureaucracy I must deal with, but CDC is a great place to work and I think the only real aspect that I find unappealing is not having adequate funding to do the research on laboratory problems that are needed to improved public health.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
Being given the opportunity by the AACC membership to serve as AACC President is the highest recognition of my career and an honor that I will always cherish.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
This is a real difficult question to answer because I think it really depends on where one finds themselves in their career. First, since we spend most of our day at work, it is really important that you have a job that you enjoy or otherwise it becomes very difficult to obtain a good balance. Find time to unwind and defuse. Now having said that, it is also very important to work hard on developing your career. If you are early in your career it is important to develop collaborations and to network with other colleagues as much as possible. As you begin to establish yourself in the field or your particular specialty area, then I think it is important to be in a “Yes” frame of mind. By that I mean say yes to those opportunities that come along to get involved in your institution, company and professional society. Obviously to do this may require a shift more towards work than your non-work life. However as the benefits of this pay off at some time you will find that you have grown in your career to a point where you can now pick and chose the things you want to get involved in. To balance all of this with your family or non-work life, though, is the real challenge. One thing I will stress is if you are raising children don’t miss out on their life activities. If you miss the ball game, dance recital, etc. you can’t just catch up later like you can if you miss work.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
For me it is the challenge of dealing with something new almost every day. Whether it is trouble shooting a performance problem with one of our standardized lipid labs, or evaluating the strengths and limitations of a new emerging biomarker for assessing chronic disease risk, or keeping up with new technology developments, I think laboratory medicine presents a dynamic practice environment that requires me to stay constantly in tune with the field.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
I think the melding of imaging and diagnostics has the greatest potential for change over the coming years. I also think that we will continue to see increased interest and developments in personalized medicine. This is one of the areas that I have focused on during my term as AACC President. I formed a Personalized Medicine Advisory Group to carefully review the activities in this area and advise the Board of Directors on how the AACC should embrace this new area in our projects and programs.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
Finding the right job that is challenging and rewarding and that gives you the sense of satisfaction to know what you are doing will make a difference in the health and well being of a person’s life.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Never stop learning.
- 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 could probably list all of the different positions and committees that I have served on within AACC and NACB and indicate what accomplishments were made, but from my perspective it is not what I have given, but what I have received from the AACC. The AACC has contributed so much to my career growth by providing me with so many opportunities to present my work at national meetings, publish the results of my work in a world class journal, network with outstanding scientists and develop lifetime friendships.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I was attending the AACC meeting in 1988 as a non-member. That was when your name badge indicated member and non-member. I was in a committee meeting with Dr. Basil Doumas and after the meeting he came up to me and said, Gary I don’t want to see you at this meeting again as a non-member. If you want to be successful in this field you need to be a member of the AACC. I went home and joined the AACC. It was great advice. I think you must take the responsibility to get involved. Don’t wait to be asked. Get involved by contacting your local section leadership or the leadership of any of the Divisions you may belong to and let them know you are interested in getting involved. This will help build your leadership skills and also build your reputation within the AACC and possibly lead to more involvement at the national level.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
The AACC is an outstanding organization, but to continue and maintain its leadership and prominence it needs the involvement of its younger members. It needs the active participation of SYCL members.