- What is your job title and affiliation?
I am a Professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at LSU Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) in New Orleans
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
I received a B.S. in biochemistry from LSU in Baton Rouge and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Texas in Austin. I then trained in Clinical Chemistry in the post-doctoral program at LSU Medical Center in New Orleans. I took a second post-doctoral position (primarily in Toxicology) in a program directed by Chris Frings, PhD at a private reference laboratory in Birmingham, Alabama. I remained on staff with that laboratory and my responsibilities included serving as Clinical Chemist for several hospitals as well as directing the Toxicology laboratory of the main lab. I transferred to New Orleans (closer to our home town in southwest Louisiana ) when a merger occurred and have remained here even when the laboratory “downsized' to a collection site. At that time I joined the faculty at LSU HSC.
- What are your Board certifications?
I am board certified in Clinical Chemistry by ABCC and NRCC and in Toxicological Chemistry by ABCC.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I have been a member of AACC for 31 years and it is the organization that I have been most active in. Selected positions include Chair of the Southeast Section, Chair of the House of Delegates, Chair of the 2001 Annual Meeting Organizing Committee, member of the Board of Directors, Chair of the TDM/Tox Division, Treasurer, and now AACC President for 2008. I have also served on the Board of Directors of ABCC, NACB, and NRCC and as President of NRCC. I have served on the organizing committees for the annual Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT).
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
My wife Martha and I have been married for 37 years. Our only child, Andrea is married to Peter Travis and they are parents of our only grandchild, Matthew who is one and half years old. We are fortunate that they live 10 minutes from us and Matthew stays with us 2 days a week when Andrea, who has a B.S. in Medical Technology and a M.S. in Forensic Sciences work part-time for the local parish's crime laboratory. Andrea and Peter (now the Chemical Terrorism response coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Public Health) met as students in our medical technology program so I had the unusual opportunity of teaching my daughter and future son-in-law as college seniors.
- Favorite activities/hobbies
I'm pretty busy traveling but I am an avid LSU fan and have season tickets in football and basketball. I enjoy photography but have not been able to spend enough time doing this for the past 10 years or so.
- Favorite places you have traveled
It's hard to say my favorite place but I really like the western U.S. , particularly the National Parks in that part of our country.
- Favorite book/movie
Because my daily commute is from 30 to 60 minutes each way and in the past I often drove when visiting labs in a 4 state area, I've been listening to books on tape for many years, so that I often judge a book on the author's use of the language. Two authors whose works I like to listen to are Pat Conroy and James Lee Burke. I also listen to or read mystery/crime novels by authors such as James North Patterson.
Movies that I like include the Sixth Sense, Citizen Kane, Saving Private Ryan, the Bourne movies, and Passion Fish mainly because it was filmed in my hometown of Lake Arthur , Louisiana . I also enjoy western movies as well as Louis L'Amour novels.
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
I'm a pretty dull guy so haven't had many adventurous experiences but I do try to enjoy everything that I do. Growing up in a small town I was able to participate in high school football and basketball and that was fun. Travel is fun and I try to learn something about each area before visiting so that if there is time I can enjoy the local attractions.
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
If anything it would be toxicology although as an educator I try to keep abreast of all aspects of clinical chemistry.
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
As mentioned previously, when I trained with Chris Frings I assumed one of his areas of interest, which was toxicology. Over the years I continued the interest and was fortunate to serve as director of a SAMHSA-certified laboratory, inspector of these certified labs, and briefly as director of the toxicology laboratory for the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office prior to hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately that lab has not yet reopened 2 and one- half years after the storm.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
Being in a Medical Technology program in a School of Allied Health I do not have clinical responsibilities like my colleagues in Pathology departments. In the 15 years that I've been at LSUHSC, I have contracted to serve as director of several laboratories including the ones previously mentioned. My primary research interests have included method development, primarily in post-mortem samples.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
Unlike many of my distinguished colleagues, my career has not focused on a particular area of research so I do not think my contribution to the field is in one particular area. Hopefully my teaching of students for 15 years has had an impact on their lives and careers. I also would like to think that my service activities have contributed in some small way to the field. If my publications and presentations have had any impact it has been in the education of laboratorians, primarily at the bench technologist level.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
I see unhappy people in the field who blame their dissatisfaction on difficult personal relationships with their employers and/or fellow employees but I've been fortunate to have never personally experienced this during my career. In my role as director of a laboratory my most unpleasant experiences have revolved around unhappy or underperforming employees.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
By far the most rewarding moments of my career are the sense of accomplishment when students not only understand the scientific content of the material that I'm presenting, but also realize and appreciate why they need to know this material. The most challenging moments of my career have been those instances when a laboratory that I directed was either sold or “downsized” due to circumstances beyond my control.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
As you get older it seems easier to give advice and often it's the same advice that you received when you were younger but for various reasons you chose to ignore. All I can say is that work/life balance is important and something that is hard to keep in perspective early in your career. Critical to achieving what is optimal for you is the support of your life partner(s)/family. Look at your schedule from their vantage point and try to be objective in your thinking. The easiest advice to give and the hardest to receive is if you're going to err, err on the side of life rather than work balance.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
In my case it's the satisfaction of helping to mold a student's entry into a career and the opportunity to continually learn.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
The only accurate prediction that I can make is that the field will continue to change rapidly. It will be interesting to see what impact the acquisition of diagnostic companies by imaging companies has upon the field. Another possible driver of change could be government involvement due to emphasis on patient safety and medical errors. Of course molecular diagnostics in its many aspects (whatever is the “omics du jour”) will have an impact and we can't forget the ramifications of the implementation of the electronic medical record. How's that for being vague? As you can guess I'm not much of a gambler and haven't given specific predictions.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
I think young scientists face many of the same general challenges that their predecessors encountered. The value of laboratory medicine and of our field in particular is not recognized at many levels—the public, legislators, administrators, clinicians, etc. So your challenge is to continually prove your worth and value to your organization.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Setting goals that are appropriate for you is critical. It's been said in so many ways but a goal is nothing but a dream unless you constantly revisit it and focus on achieving it. This is true of short-term as well as career goals. If you achieve your short-term goals over an extended period of time you should achieve your career goals as well. If not, you failed when setting your career goals. My mentor, Chris Frings, always told me that you can dig a deeper hole staying in one place meaning that remaining with one employer has long-term benefits. Of course that one employer has to be the right one for you so I'm not saying you must not change companies/positions. My personal philosophy has always been to treat employees below and employers above you just as you expect to be treated. Always focus on doing the best job no matter whatever you're doing and you can't go wrong.
- 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 fortunate that my employers over the years have encouraged active involvement in professional organizations. Also I am lucky that AACC is the organization that I chose to be most active in. Succeeding as a volunteer in a professional organizations requires a willingness to do a job often without a visible tangible benefit to you. In my opinion the most valuable personal benefit derives from the people you meet and work with. The tasks themselves may or may not impact the field. One practice of the Board of Directors is to always reiterate the mission and goal of AACC at the beginning of every meeting—that's an excellent way of focusing on what the leadership should keep in mind when making decisions. There is a great sense of pride when any AACC member but particularly a SYCL or international member praises AACC or one of its programs. Somehow you feel that maybe the hours and weekends away from family might have made a small contribution to one of AACC's many successful projects.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I initially got involved in AACC at the local section level and was fortunate to meet many leaders of AACC in my own section. This was at a time when Divisions were just forming, so my initial involvement was as an officer of the Southeast local section and then in the House of Delegates. Later I became involved in more than 1 Division and eventually served as an officer. I never joined an organization with the idea of becoming a leader and have always felt that you should be willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish the task that you've undertaken. At all levels in AACC I served on committees, task forces or other groups before becoming an officer and I think it's critical to do so. My advice for young people wanting to get involved is simple: approach the leaders and volunteer. Local sections and Divisions are always looking for volunteers—don't be afraid that you don't have the experience to do something.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Thank you for asking me to share my thoughts with you and please introduce yourself no matter when or where you see me. I'm bad at remembering names so don't be offended if I forget yours. I encourage you to volunteer and to also introduce yourself to some of the “legends” of our field. You'll find that they are always willing to talk to you and share their experience. I think all of us who are nearing retirement want to see AACC continue to be a leader in laboratory medicine and want to help you become one of AACC's leaders of the future. Those of us who enjoy what we do want you to feel the same way and are willing to help you achieve this feeling in any way that we can.