December 2009 Mentor of the Month Interview: Shirley Welch
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?
    I am the Director of Chemistry and Toxicology in the Department of Pathology, Northwest Region of Kaiser Permanente. I also have an Affiliate Assistant Professor appointment in the Pathology Department at Oregon Health and Science University.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I received my B.S. in Biochemistry from Michigan State University in 1973 and a PhD in Biochemistry in 1977 from the University of California at Berkeley. After a Postdoctoral fellowship in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State University, I entered the Clinical Chemistry postdoctoral training program at Oregon Health and Science University, directed by Dr. Robert Swanson.
    In 1982, I started working as the Technical Director of Special Chemistry and Toxicology at a regional reference laboratory in Portland, Oregon. After several years and a few laboratory mergers, I spent some time as a consultant and interim director of a SAMHSA drug testing laboratory. In 1991, I moved to Kaiser Permanente as Director of Chemistry.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am board certified in Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Toxicology by the American Board of Clinical Chemistry.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    At this point, I am primarily involved with NACB and AACC. Other organizations I have belonged to include the California Association of Toxicologists and the International Association of TDM and Toxicology.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    My partner, Marty and I share our home with a 2 year old chocolate Labrador, McKenzie and a 6 year old cat, Spencer. Our favorite times are spent hiking, climbing and skiing in the mountains of the western United States. On our last high Sierra backpacking trip we learned how to fly fish! We also like to travel and enjoy exploring the mountains, cities and cultures in other countries. And we are both looking forward to retirement in the next year or two, and the time to pursue other interests and passions.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    I am a generalist as my responsibilities cover Core Lab chemistry and Immunochemistry, Special Chemistry, Toxicology, Immunology and Viral Serology. If I had to pick the areas in which I spend the most time, the list would be toxicology, endocrinology and viral serology.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    My first job was developing some GC methods for drug testing and toxicology has been an interest ever since. It’s an area of the lab where you can still be a chemist and confirmation methods are mostly laboratory developed, not kit based.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My job is primarily a clinical service position. So, most of my research projects have been clinical studies of new instrumentation and methods for IVD companies. These have primarily been in the areas of general chemistry and immunoassay.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    I would have to say that being involved with LabTestsOnline since its inception has been a very stimulating and satisfying experience.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Unappealing is a rather strong term. There are some aspects of laboratory medicine that are definitely more challenging for me, mostly to do with personnel management and budgets, including trying to practice within the budgetary constraints of the system.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    A number of years ago, we had the opportunity to design a new regional reference laboratory. This was done in collaboration with lab staff as well as architects and engineers and the product is a lab that is designed by process instead of discipline. Moving into the new lab and watching it all come together was a very rewarding experience.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    I think that everyone has to determine what their own optimal work/life balance is and it takes work and communication with both colleagues and family to achieve this. Like many, when I was starting out my career, I worked long hours. Over time, I developed some outside interests and passions. For me, it is important to complement my time at work with time in the out-of-doors. My energy level and enthusiasm are much higher when I get enough “mountain time”.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    Every day is different – I never know what will be waiting for me in the morning, and the types of questions I will get asked, both from clinicians and from staff. Some are easy and some take hours of research or investigation.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I’m not sure how clear my crystal ball is. Lab medicine will continue to change; there will be new markers, new evidence for the use of existing markers, new analytical techniques and more sensitive instrumentation. I think more patient focused care will drive increased point-of –care testing and increased use of medical informatics will help the lab turn data into better information for clinicians and patients. I hope that there will also be an increase in rigorous studies that can provide good evidence for practice changes.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Right now, I think finding the right job can be a tremendous challenge. Funding is scarce, both for research and in laboratory budgets. Remaining engaged and enthusiastic in this environment can be difficult.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    As you finish your training, know yourself well enough to know what kind of career you want – research, service, industry, etc. Find opportunities and pursue them. Once you have gotten started, become an active member of your professional organization(s). The network of colleagues and friends you will develop will become an invaluable support throughout your career.
  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.
    My employers have all been very supportive of involvement in professional organizations. I have been active on many AACC committees over the years and have been on the AACC Board of Directors and also on the board of the American Board of Clinical Chemistry. One of the more rewarding experiences I have had in AACC has been as member and then Chair of an Annual Meeting Organizing Committee. Currently I am involved in NACB activities and am finishing up a term on the PCC (Program Planning Commission).
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    I started out being active at the Division level which led to being the liaison to a CAP Resource committee. From there the network of colleagues and contacts just grows. Once you indicate an interest in volunteering, it is easy to get involved, so much so that eventually you have to learn how to say no once in a while! Many AACC committees are looking for the “SYCL perspective”, so if you have an interest in a committee or area, let the leaders of your local section or division of interest know.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Get involved in your professional societies – there are many ways to become involved and all it takes in indicating an interest. Consider volunteering for a committee or becoming active in a division. The colleagues and friends you will make and the experiences you will have can add a whole different dimension to being a clinical chemist.
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