American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
May 2010 Mentor of the Month Interview: Jack Zakowski
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?
    Jack Zakowski, PhD, FACB
    Director, Scientific Affairs and Professional Relations
    Chemistry Systems
    Beckman Coulter, Inc.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    BA in Biochemistry, Univ of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) PhD in Biochemistry, Univ of California, Davis Post-doctoral Fellowship in Biochemical Virology, Univ of Virginia Medical School Post-doctoral Fellowship in Clinical Chemistry, Univ of Virginia Hospital
    I then started work at Beckman Instruments (now Beckman Coulter) as a reagent development chemist, which expanded to instrument systems design and project management. After a brief hiatus at Bio-Rad, I returned to Beckman as manager of the technical applications support group, and subsequently lead groups in clinical evaluations, chemistry reagent development, technical support, and clinical and scientific affairs.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    Fellow of the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry (FACB)
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I have been active with AACC for many years at the levels of local sections, House of Delegates, meeting and conference organization, divisions, and other committees. I have been on three AACC Annual Meeting Organizing Committees and was Chair of the meeting in 2003.
    I am also very active with CLSI in development of clinical lab standards and I was recently installed on the CLSI Board of Directors.
    I am on the executive committee of the US Technical Advisory Group to ISO Technical Committee 212 on IVD products, a member of the steering committee of the National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program, serve as a liaison on a CAP committee, and am a member of several other scientific and professional societies.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      Married since graduating college, two children, two grandchildren and two more due shortly.
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      Reading, family time
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      China, Israel
    • Favorite book/movie
      The Lord of the Rings (both the books and the movies)
    • Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
      White water rafting
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    I work mostly in the general clinical chemistry disciplines, including immunoassay.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    I had always wanted to work in healthcare. After completing BA and PhD in biochemistry and a post-doc in a dept of microbiology in a medical school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t academics. The microbiology post-doc I worked with suggested I look into clinical chemistry. I said what’s that? She told me and four months later I was in a training fellowship. Best career move I ever made.
    Sadly, I don’t think the visibility of, or knowledge about, our field has improved any in the intervening 30 years.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My primary interests are in R&D and product development, particularly in the areas of chemistry reagents and analyzer systems, including automation and lab workflow processes. I’m also, involved in clinical and scientific affairs working with the professional community in studies relevant to laboratory medicine and the effective delivery of healthcare.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    Development and support of clinical systems and reagents that help laboratories worldwide deliver healthcare effectively, efficiently, and cost-effectively.
    Also, my work on various standardization groups (CLSI, NGSP, ISO, NKDEP, etc) has helped drive analytical and laboratory improvements.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Not particularly. Some parts may be more or less fun than others, but none of it is unnecessary.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    Most rewarding is walking into a lab and seeing the products I design and support being used to further healthcare.
    Most challenging is walking into a lab and seeing sub-optimal lab practices.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    First, keep reminding yourself that you need balance, and then take action to do it. You can’t get good at either one (work or life) without spending enough time doing the other.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    The ability to improve people’s lives.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    We will see current trends continuing and maybe accelerating: increasing automaton and IT systems, increasing cost control in the lab with concomitant “de-skilling” of the lab workforce. New technologies (faster, simpler analyzers, new assay methodologies, POC in some settings, improved IT, etc) will come in to help, but the basic underlying trends have been there for many years and will continue.
    Laboratory scientists need to become more equal partners with other healthcare professionals in guiding diagnosis and therapy based on data-driven (i.e., lab-based) testing.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Staying current with the explosive growth in medical knowledge, adding value to the field by knowing what new technologies to apply, and recognition of and preparation for new growth areas in the field. For those who pursue academic careers, acquiring and maintaining external grant funding will also be an important challenge.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    An old saying goes, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”. Find what excites you most and find a way to get paid to do it.
  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 fortunate to be involved with a number of activities within AACC, and it has helped me and my career tremendously. Most of my efforts have been in organizing scientific meetings (local section speakers, Oak Ridge Conference, AACC Annual Meetings, etc.) I also do some speaking and presentations at various venues helping to further the field. Organizationally, my work in society management has helped create venues and opportunities for others to learn and grow.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    I started when I was asked to help at our AACC local section. (OK, my boss suggested it but it was still good idea). I was willing, did a reasonably good job, and it kept growing into more roles. Eventually, I sought out more on my own, and I now suggest others do so, too. If no one is asking you to participate in something, then seek them out and offer your services, time and expertise. Try your local AACC section or an AACC Division in your interest area, or a CLSI standards working group, or whatever intrigues you. You will rarely get turned down.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Keep at it, and keep perspective. There will be lots of challenges but every other field has them too. Ours has more rewards than most.