American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
December 2008 Mentor of the Month Interview: Donald Wiebe
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?
    Associate Professor, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Director, Chemistry & Toxicology Laboratories, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Madison, WI
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    • Undergraduate BS degree University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse (long time ago)
    • PhD at the University of Iowa, Organic Chemistry, 1973
    • 1972 – 1978 Director Lipid Laboratory, Lipid Research Clinic, University of Iowa
    • 1978 – 1980 Fellowship in Clinical Chemistry at the University of Iowa
    • 1980 – 1984 Research Scientist at Center for Environmental Health at CDC in Atlanta, GA
    • 1984 – 1990 Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • 1990 – today Associate Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    ABCC diplomat (chemistry 1983)
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    • AACC since 1974
    • ASC since 1968
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      Family is number one and has been a source of a lot of stability and love throughout my life. This especially includes my wife Gay who has been at my side and my strength for more that 42 years and counting – what a treasure. Then, there are James and Katherine, our children that have provided more excitement and given our lives an enrichment that has no bounds.
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      At one time my activities changed as the seasons changed from basketball, volleyball, football and softball. However age and injuries suggested that I forgo these activities for the less strenuous fishing, golfing, and the occasional jog. I find it easy to relax in Northern Wisconsin as I search for the elusive walleye or fight a nice small mouth bass with my ultralite rod bent in half. My golf game is nothing to brag about but I treasure the time I spend seeking those occasional pars and even more elusive birdies (what’s an eagle?).
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      Clinical chemistry has been rewarding in many ways and the opportunity to travel to places that I might not otherwise have been was certainly a nice bonus. One place I traveled to was Turkey due to friendship that I found with Yayah Laleli, MD, a pathologist who established clinical outpatient laboratories in both Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey. Through the generosity of Yayah I have had the opportunity to visit Turkey several times and each time I was in awe of their rich history, strong and caring people, wonderful food, and fantastic sights to behold throughout the country.
    • Favorite book/movie
      I read books for relaxation and entertainment, thus my favorites tend to be mysteries and fantasy and many authors fall into both categories. However, my favorite is probably the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and the series of movies that brought the books alive.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    My areas of responsibilities include the chemistry and toxicology service laboratories.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    My early days with the Lipid Research Clinic (LRC) program at the University of Iowa piqued my interest in lipids and lipoproteins. I was fresh out of graduate school and my knowledge in this area was at ground zero. However, having the opportunity to meet many key laboratory individuals associated with the LRC program provided a great opportunity to learn from highly skilled and dedicated scientists. The LRC program exposed me to the laboratory challenges of measuring cholesterol, triglyceride, and lipoproteins to meet the service needs of the physicians and patients. A goal of the LRC program was to ensure that all the participating laboratories were coordinated and the laboratories operated as one. Thus, with the efforts of NIH and CDC, the LRC laboratories were standardized to provide the highest quality of data possible. Therefore, the LRC program exposed me to the concepts of quality control and standardization, terms that are foreign to most organic chemist. Finally, my association with the LRC program led me to the highly service-oriented hospital laboratories and opportunities in clinical chemistry. Therefore, without any great plan I stumbled my way into this rewarding field!
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    I have developed a keen interest in laboratory analysis of lipids and lipoproteins but more recently the needs of our laboratory have turned my attention to immunosuppressants for transplant patients. Even more recent is vitamin D analysis and the need to find answers to standardize the measurement of 25-OH vitamin D2, D3, and total.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    This is certainly an interesting question. I believe that my contribution to the field of laboratory medicine has been my ability to pass some of the enthusiasm and passion I have for laboratory medicine on to undergraduate students in our Clinical Laboratory Science program or pathology residents or medical students who have themselves gone on to become involved in laboratory medicine.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Reimbursement issues are a part of laboratory medicine that is important for the fiscal stability of the hospital but also can be in opposition with the needs of the patient.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    The rewarding aspects of my profession comes from assisting students learn a new concept related to the subject being taught and the “light goes on” when the student grasps the principle that is being expressed. Similar rewards come from the satisfaction of answering questions from clinicians treating patients and our feedback provides insight into what maybe happening with the patient. The same satisfaction can be obtained when a medical technologist may be frustrated with an analytical method which may have quality control results that are unacceptable and our recommendations help resolve a problem with the system. I wish I could tack credit for all the times when these issues or problems are resolved but the truth is that I too often turn to colleagues and friends throughout our profession that freely offer comments or suggestions that lead to solving issues. It is the generosity of my fellow colleagues that really make my career most rewarding!
    Challenging? This question may be answered in two ways. First, the field of laboratory medicine has changed drastically from my early days when the autoanalyzer was state of the art to today with increased automation, micro-processing, smaller sample requirements, homogenous immunoassays, and on and on – the challenge has been to keep the laboratory moving forward. Change is not easy for all staff and yet it is our responsibility to move take advantage of today’s technology.
    My own personal challenge occurred was when I was working at CDC in Atlanta and had to make a decision to stay in a position from which I received a lot of satisfaction or accept a new opportunity to move to Madison, WI and change my career path to an academic/ hospital position. Obviously, I selected the academic path but I left a lot of colleagues and friends behind.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    What happens at work needs to stay at work and what happens at home also needs to stay at home. Sounds like a simple task in principle but is a challenge to totally turn something off and not let it affect you or individuals around you. It is important that we meet both the obligations we have at work while still maintaining and nurturing relationships at home. I recall that shortly after our first child was born and my wife returned to teaching 6th grade in an elementary school. My wife was driven to work hard to make sure the children in her class were receiving the best education possible and that meant oftentimes working at home with lesson plans, etc. However, once our child was born there was an immediate problem. She felt guilty if her class was not receiving her full-time attention if she gave our child all the love and attention at night and vice versa in that she felt she was cheating our child if all her time was taken to enhance her teaching needs. This same stressful situation can develop if an optimal balance is not achieved. I do the best I can while I’m at work but I try to resist taking issues home. Not that I have issues!!!!
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    Each day is new and exciting with unknown issues or problems that develop from multiple sources. For some unexplainable reason it is this very uncertainty that I find rather exciting about our involvement in laboratory medicine. Also, as I mentioned above, the other aspect I like about our profession is how we can contact other friends or colleagues and ask their opinion concerning many of these issues and they freely and readily oblige me with a response.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    Clearly everyone seems to be searching for the serum markers that can be measured as prognostic or diagnostic indicators that a patient is at risk for or is experiencing a life-threatening event. Unfortunately, I feel that the ultimate goal in searching for these markers is not strictly to meet our patient’s medical needs. Instead, the rate at which they will patent these markers would suggest a different motive.
    Instrument automation, pre-analytical sample processing, and electronic medical records will be a major growth area over the next several years. However, point-of-care technology must also improve. I see the day when patients in critical care units will have the laboratory injected into their veins and physicians and nurses will monitor blood gases, electrolytes, and glucose on a real-time basis. Laboratory medicine is still in its infancy for medical care.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Young clinical chemists must accept the changes occurring in laboratory medicine as new opportunities and embrace the new activities to ensure the end-user make the right decisions for managing the patient.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    I encourage young scientists to become actively involved with their professional organizations at the local, sectional and national levels. Seek professional relationships with both physicians and the clinical laboratory staff as each of these can be of value to move your own career forward.
  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 been quite fortunate to be given the opportunity to serve AACC at different levels. This includes my involvement in the local section where I served as chair-elect, chair, past-chair and on the board with the nominations committee on different occasions. The same is true with my involvement in the various Divisions to which I belonged for several years, especially the Lipoproteins and Vascular Diseases Division. I also spent a few years on the board for ABCC, NRCC, and as liaison for AACC on the ACP standardization committee. All of these activities have given me a way to give back to my profession.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    It is really easy to get involved by just letting others know that you want to get involved. Usually this starts at the local level where we are constantly searching to find individuals willing to become active participants. I was fortunate because all my role models were key contributors and active participants and I just followed their lead.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Yes, AACC is your professional organization that needs your participation at all levels, so please make time and become actively involved – it will enrich your career many fold! I applaud AACC’s efforts to nurture and develop young clinical chemists and the SYCL program is terrific. It makes me proud to be a member of AACC.