- What is your job title and affiliation?
Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Associate Director, Core/Clinical Chemistry Laboratories and Director, Point-of-Care Testing, UNC Healthcare
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
I have a B.A. in Microbiology from San Jose State College, a Masters Degree in Health Science from California State University at Fresno and M.P.H. and Dr.P.H. degrees in Laboratory Practice with a specialization in Clinical Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After completing my undergraduate work I served as a Public Health Microbiologist in Fresno California for six years and a Public health Laboratory Director for Fresno County for two years. After completing my graduate studies in the joint UNC/Centers for Disease Control Program, I completed a fellowship in Clinical Chemistry (COMACC) at UNC Hospitals. I have been a faculty member in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and a Clinical Chemistry Laboratory Director since 1980.
- What are your Board certifications?
I have board certification in Clinical Chemistry by ABCC and Clinical Chemist certification from the NRCC.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I currently serve on the Board of Directors for NRCC (National registry of Certified Chemists) and maintain membership in AACC, NACB (National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry) and ACLPS (Academy of Clinical Physicians and Scientists).
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
- Favorite activities/hobbies
I am an avid outdoorsman and we both enjoy sailing and travel. I also enjoy indoor activities such as reading and music. When not engaged in any of these I’m probably at the local fitness center trying to burn a few calories.
- Favorite places you have traveled
It is difficult to pick a favorite place as each destination offers a unique experience. Some of our favorites include Cozumel, the Peruvian Amazon and mountain regions, Costa Rica, London, Brittany and Normandy in France and the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.
- Favorite book/movie
I’m pretty much an omnivore when it comes to reading. Depending on my mood, I might be reading pure fun fiction, history or science. Favorite books include ……. “A Brief History of Time” , “The Children of Henry VIII”, “The Life of Elizabeth I” , “We were Soldiers – and Young” and everything by Robert Ludlum and J.K Rowling.
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
Well, probably the most adventurous (not recommended!) was a charter flight in a small plane from Belize City to the Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala. We flew into a storm front and encountered zero visibility the entire way in a plane equipped for VFR flight only! In terms of pleasant adventures, I would have to include two weeks on the Amazon, hiking in the Corcovado rainforest region of Costa Rica, and float plane trips into the frozen tundra regions of Northern Quebec.
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
General Automated Chemistry, fetal lung maturity testing, lipoproteins, porphyria analysis and point of care testing.
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
The first, fetal lung maturity testing, was assigned to me as a “fun and interesting challenge”. Little did I realize at the time it would present a continuous challenge for the next twenty years! My other areas of specialization evolved, as most do in our field, from a combination of clinical need and personal interest/expertise.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
My current research endeavors have been associated with helping in vitro diagnostics companies develop and validate new analytical test systems. Evaluation of endogenous test interferents and testing strategies for enhancing the antenatal prediction of fetal lung maturation also continue to be a significant research interests.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I believe I have helped many obstetricians and laboratorians alike to better understand the nature, limits and most effective way to utilize and interpret fetal lung maturity tests. This endeavor has been particularly rewarding to me as it has allowed me to work collaboratively with many other clinicians and laboratorians who share the same interest in and dedication to this area of testing. One example of this effort was an FLM workshop that I developed in conjunction with Dr. William N.P. Herbert, then a UNC Obstetrician, that we presented at AACC annual Meetings for 10 consecutive years between 1988 and 1997. This workshop was aimed at providing much needed practical information and ideas concerning optimal use and interpretation of FLM tests. It was received extremely well by attendees, generated countless follow-up calls and has spawned several collaborative projects over the years.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
Yes. I dislike never having worked in a laboratory with windows! As someone who loves the outdoors, it is depressing to have to physically leave the building to see the sun. Otherwise, whereas many aspects of our work are challenging, I’m not sure I ever found any of it unappealing…well maybe preparing for and undergoing CAP inspections!
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
As a director of our postdoctoral program for many years, I believe one of the most gratifying experiences for me is to watch the careers of our former postdoctoral fellows begin their careers and blossom. I can think of few contributions to the field that match the impact of infusing bright new talented and well trained professionals into it. What is the most challenging part of my career? I suppose it is balancing academic and clinical responsibilities, objectives and goals. I find these are often at odds, however, the trick is to find a way to mesh the two to whatever degree possible.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I wouldn’t presume to have a prescription that would work for everyone. For me personally it has always been to value both my profession and my life outside that arena. I try my best to approach each with dedication and enthusiasm, but I do tend to keep them fairly separate. I work hard and I play hard, but I try not to mix the two. That’s what works for me. Each person has to find his/her own formula for achieving an optimal balance.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
No day is ever the same. I enjoy lifelong learning and being a clinical chemist in an academic medical center forces one into a continuous learning mode in order to stay abreast of cutting edge developments clinical laboratory science, provide state-of-the-art laboratory services, and convey this knowledge to our trainees and other healthcare workers.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
I expect to see the emergence of new biochemical tests for risk-stratification, diagnosis and management of a wide variety of diseases and an expanded laboratory role in validating these and educating health providers on their use and limitations. Also, I believe there is not much doubt that molecular techniques will continue to expand into many more areas of laboratory medicine. I also believe we will see more thoughtful expansion of decentralized near-patient testing as the operational simplicity and analytic reliability of point-of-care devices continues to improve and implementation is based on appropriate cost and clinical outcome measures.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
I see ever increasing regulatory requirements, ever increasing clinical pressures for greater test selection and faster response times, economic pressures to reduce cost and the ongoing challenge of maintaining high laboratorian visibility as vital members of the health care team.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
I can’t recommend what goals one should set. This is an individual decision. However, I can emphasize how important it is for every young scientist to decide where he or she wishes to be in this profession a few years down the road. Every institution/position is different in terms of reward structure, potential for advancement, type of experience gained, etc. The trick is to make good position choices early on that can lead to realization of your long-term career goals. Sometimes employment realities present temporary impediments to one’s plan. The trick is to know where you want to go and be ready to take advantage of opportunities to get you there as they arise. That said, few of us get there on our own – a good mentor is an invaluable asset in such endeavors.
- 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’m not sure any of us ever give back as much as we get from organizations like the AACC. In my case, through service to AACC at the local and national levels and in a variety of positions and activities, I believe I have provided some benefit to the organization while at the same time contributing to the profession through AACC- associated educational and scientific activities.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I got started, as many do, by becoming active in local section governance. Here one can gain valuable organizational experience in a manageable local setting. Such experience typically provides multiple opportunities for involvement in AACC activities at the national level. Also, the AACC, through its many divisions and associated organizations like ABCC and NACB, provides many opportunities to become actively involved in virtually any area of interest within our profession.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
SYCL is a wonderful way to fast-track into our profession and an excellent way to make valuable professional contacts with other young scientists. You may be the new members of this profession today, but you will ultimately define the profession in the future. Decide what you want that future to look like and make the personal commitment to make it so.