September 2009 Mentor of the Month Interview: Allan Jaffe
- What is your job title and affiliation?
Professor of Medicine, Consultant in Cardiology and Laboratory Medicine, Chair Clinical Core Laboratory Services, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
College at University of Rochester, medical school at the University of Maryland. house staff training in Internal Medicine and Cardiology at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. Chief Residency at the VA hospital. Stayed on faculty at Washington University working in the CCU with Drs, Burton Sobel and Robert Roberts, with a lab dedicated to clinical biochemistry and particularly CK and CKMB. Director of CCU from 1982-1995. Worked on markers of coagulation, fibrinolysis and myocardial injury. Collaborated with Jack Ladenson in the labs on the development and particularly the clinical validation of cardiac troponin I. Moved to State University of New York in Syracuse as Chair of Cardiology and Associate Chair of Medicine for Academic Affairs in 1995 and to Mayo in 1999 in Cardiology and Laboratory Medicine.
- What are your Board certifications?
Internal Medicine and Cardiology
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
ACC, AHA, AACC, NACB
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
single father with 2 wonderful children, ages 27 and 21
- Favorite activities/hobbies
exercise and sports. reading
- Favorite places you have traveled
Hong Kong, Rome, Madrid
- Favorite book/movie
Shakespeare in person or in printed form, movie – A thousand clowns
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
took the 2 children with me to Brazil for a week when they were young and we climbed all over the water falls at Igassu.
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
I was exposed to it during the early part of my career and had wonderful mentors who stimulated and supported me to do more and to learn more. I then had the good fortune to find a superb collaborator at Washington University in Jack Ladenson.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
I love evaluating and treating patients with acute ischemic heart disease. Thus, my interest in cardiac biomarkers, particularly in acutely ill patients.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I would like to think that I have helped and am continuing to help clinicians and laboratorians to co-operate in promulgating the intelligent use of cardiac biomarkers and particularly now, troponin measurements.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
No surfeit of interesting issues and we have a cadre of bright intellectually aggressive young people who are stimulating to work with in an environment where solving these problems is viewed as essential to good patient care.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
I have very much enjoyed helping to develop the troponin assays and helping to promulgate their use. The opportunities offered to me in Laboratory Medicine to work with terrific young people. Biggest challenge was navigating the progressive deterioration of a Department of Medicine due to poor leadership at SUNY.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
It is the choices one makes. If you want lots of time with family and less time at work, you need to choose an environment that facilitates that. There is a tendency for all of us to go for what we want with the idea we will change the system and its constraints the way we would like and “have it all.” That is not realistic. Find what you are passionate about and pursue it as best you can but no matter how understanding a system is, our work will always collide with our private lives. In my view, finding that balance is up to the individual within an understanding system whose constraints are clearly expressed up front.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
The challenge of new interesting issues that evolve every day.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
The labs will evolve. Routine things will in 10 years, mostly be done at the point of care. That does not mean that high levels of quality assurance are not needed but they will not be lab based. The labs will do multiplexed testing and esoteric testing to a greater extent. Thus, the distance between clinicians and laboratorians could increase and that will make for problems in the interpretation of testing. This is already the case and we should try to deal with this problem by involving more clinicians in lab activities. I think we do that pretty well at Mayo but as fewer MDs go into Lab Medicine, having this occur becomes more and more critical.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
Funding for research and development and quality assurance will always be an issue, especially in smaller labs and clinicians often just want values. Thus, we must bring in more clinical help and support and educate physicians that there are important issues with the things that we measure that they need to understand. We then need to support our young people to do the myriad of things they want to do, recognizing that some of them may not be traditional.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Find a place that shares your values and wants to do the things you want to do. Then focus on one area and make it as good as you can, whether in research or for clinical care. If you compromise, as we all must at times, never lose sight of what you think is right.
- Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
National organizations can play a major role in crafting our new health care system if we can get them to focus on structure rather than reimbursement. They can and should help with both advice and tangible support, for young people to get started, get focused and involved in building the future for the profession. Those with vision should deal with the future but there are major needs for guidelines and standards with what we do today. We need to expunge politics from them and make these processes focus on the science.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
Speak up and speak out. Those with energy and ideas are always sought but it takes effort to get involved. Once you do, don’t hesitate, stand up for what you think even if the organization does not want to hear you. In the long run, if you are right, they will listen.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
This group has been very active and productive. Keep it up but make sure that like all organizations, you facilitate the egress of new blood into your groups and allow those who have matured to move on to other venues that will help.