- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
AACC, the Association for Clinical Biochemistry (ACB, the UK professional society), the Royal College of Pathologists and the European Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I began by being asked by my boss to do something specific, and it grew from there! Life is like pinball - the reward for doing something well is that you get to do it again! Getting involved shouldn't be difficult because there is always a need for people to do something. I would recommend that people try to attend major meetings/conferences (national and international), make yourself known to other people who are already involved, and you will get asked. Deliver on what you do, and you’ll get asked again! The only caution I would add is to make sure you are getting involved in doing something you are really interested in - don't get trapped with something that you don't see any value in!
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
Therapeutic Drug Monitoring and Toxicology have been my main interests. On the analytical side I have always been interested in immunoassay in its various formats. My interest in TDM/Toxicology began in college. I trained as a chemist with an interest in organic chemistry. After graduation, I then did a research year in pharmacology which got me into drugs (in the lab sense, of course!)
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I think it would be bringing Lab Tests Online to the UK - the first site outside the US and the forerunner of globalization of LTO. I chaired that project from its conception to the UK launch in 2004, and for the next four years.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
LTO UK, obviously, and being awarded UK Healthcare Scientist of the Year in 2008 for that work. I have also been Vice-Chair and Chair of the AACC Annual Meeting Organizing Committee in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and those were both really enjoyable and rewarding experiences - working intensively with a small group of very talented people to produce a successful meeting is great, and I would recommend it highly! In terms of challenge, I have done two spells as Director of Laboratories in my hospital, and the sheer range of management issues is pretty taxing, but satisfying (mostly!). I was also closely involved in merging two European clinical chemistry societies into the new EFCC in 2006-2007, which had its moments!
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I am not sure I am particularly good at that, but it is important to be able to switch off sometimes and focus on something else - home, family, a pastime or a passion!
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
We’ve made great strides in making labs more efficient – I think the next ten years will be spent making them more effective. The informatics and communications revolutions have almost limitless potential to help us get lab data in the right format to the right people at the right time with the right support tools to help them turn data into information and use that information effectively to change patient outcomes. Better tests for genetic predisposition and better biomarkers will help identify and treat disease earlier in its natural history, and pharmacogenomics will help to reduce the currently unacceptable incidence of iatrogenic harm.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
I think one of the key challenges is to get the right balance between breadth and depth. In many ways, traditional boundaries between lab disciplines are breaking down - which is great, but the sheer volume of knowledge is increasing fast across a wide area. Young scientists in laboratory medicine need to cultivate an area of expertise which they know really well, but also to maintain a good general understanding across a very wide field. It is a big ask - but those who get the balance right will reap big rewards, I'm sure.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
To develop a special interest and get some publications in that area early in your career. If that can start with your PhD, so much the better. Look carefully at the first jobs you take – what is the lab’s research record? Are there established specialist areas? (preferably more than one). Get out of the lab within your institution and get yourself known as a ‘go-to’ person - both on matters specifically related to the lab and the wider aspects of clinical science.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Laboratory medicine sits at the interface between science and clinical medicine. Interfaces are exciting places – they are where things happen. Make the most of the opportunity to bridge two worlds, work hard, enjoy what you do (rather than just doing what you enjoy) – and laugh a lot!
- How did you discover lab medicine/science?
I was at Oxford, doing research in pharmacology and thinking about a career with a drug company spent synthesizing candidate compounds. I suddenly realized it didn't really appeal - and wandered into the university careers advisory service looking for other ideas. I picked up a leaflet titled "A day in the life of a clinical biochemist" and glanced through it, without much interest at first. It described a 'typical day' in the life of a clinical chemist in a busy teaching hospital, and the thing that quickly struck me was the variety - the person who wrote it described their day answering clinical queries, doing research, teaching, attending management meetings and much more! That really attracted me - and forty years later, it is that variety that still gets me out of bed in the morning! I love going to work thinking I know what I will be doing today, and finding myself doing something completely different three hours later.
- How do you handle stress/pressure?
Humor and wine.
- What is the most important leadership skill to have?
I wish I knew! You have to understand people, and know that different styles are needed for different people, but you also need vision. A charismatic leader who doesn't know where he or she is going is a disaster.
- What is an average day like in your life?
As I said a couple of questions back, it’s the variety that I love, so there aren’t too many average days. Typically, I get to work reasonably early (I like to be in before everyone else arrives!) and then it depends whether I am the ‘duty biochemist’ or not. About two days a week I will be duty biochemist and authorizing results, answering clinical and technical queries and giving advice on investigation will take up the whole day. Other days I will be in management meetings, supervising projects, teaching junior medical staff, catching up on email etc.
- What do you see as the top three global issues facing Clinical Chemistry Directors today?
Doing more and more with less and less - the relentless drive to greater efficiency and efficacy. We all moan about it, but (as someone taught me long ago) it is the only real management challenge! Any primate can do more with more - give a four year old double the amount of paint, and he/she will make twice as much mess! More with less is the real trick. Patient safety - making sure that, whatever else we do, we don't make things worse is another issue. Primum non nocere, as Hippocrates had it (no translation provided - Google it!!). The third issue is standing up for the value of clinical laboratory science as fundamental to the practice of clinical medicine.
- Who are your role models or mentors?
Chris Price is a former boss and a long-time mentor. Graham Beastall is another role model. Both are former SYCL Mentors of the Month! (January 2008 and August 2010)
- Who is your favorite vacation destination and why? I know how much you love canal tours…..
I'm very much someone who likes to discover new places rather than going back to old ones. However, two places I would happily return to again and again are Tuscany in northern Italy, for peace and countryside, and Barcelona for city life. In North America, I think my favorite cities are San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and New Orleans – for very different reasons, obviously! I would love to see more of rural USA – one of my unfulfilled life ambitions is to drive across the US. My other two ambitions are to learn to play the piano and to write my novel.
- Finally, how do you want to be remembered by your professional colleagues (i.e. what do you want written on your tombstone (grave marker not pizza)?
I'd be delighted to be remembered as someone who didn't take things too seriously! “Made people smile” will do fine as an epitaph, and shouldn’t be too taxing to the stonemason.