American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
February 2011 Mentor of the Month Interview: Nikola Baumann
Biography & Career
  1. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I am very involved in AACC. I have been active in SYCL, the Chicago Local Section, Annual Meeting Organizing Committee and currently serve on the Clinical Laboratory News Board of Editors, Program Coordinating Commission and Nominating Committee. I also enjoy ACLPS because it is a cozy group that provides great opportunities for trainees.
  2. What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in these areas?
    I am the Director of a Core Laboratory that includes high-volume chemistry, immunoassay, hematology and coagulation testing. I thoroughly enjoy being a generalist and being able to stay up to date in numerous areas. My interests lie in quality improvement and adding value to the information that comes out of the clinical laboratory. I am interested in how we ensure that we are ordering the right test on the right person at the right time and providing the correct interpretive information for each unique patient. I am also interested in expanding the value and utility of laboratory tests in special populations including geriatrics, different ethnicities, and pediatrics.
  3. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    Maybe it is wishful thinking but I still consider myself “early career” so I’m hoping that my greatest contributions are yet to come. I think that as educators, we make extremely important contributions by sharing knowledge and experience but also by being role models for our trainees. I hope that I have made a contribution to the residents, fellows and students that I have interacted with.
  4. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    Several years ago I was invited to speak about clinical chemistry as a career at the Life Sciences Career Day at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Several attendees at that event have stayed in touch and gone on to do fellowships in clinical chemistry and are now thriving clinical chemists. We meet each year at the Annual Meeting and it is really special to be able to see the successes of these individuals and to know that I played a small part in helping them discover their career path.
  5. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    When I read other Mentor of the Month interviews, this is the question I find most interesting! In all honesty, I don’t think I have achieved an “optimal work/life balance” and I’m not even sure what that would look like. I love what I do and I find that as long as I spend time doing something meaningful and find some time for myself, I can attempt to maintain balance. I also tend to apply the work hard/play hard model to my own life and it seems to have worked so far. Ask me again in 20 years!
  6. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I think that we are masters of generating data and we have a lot of opportunities to improve how all of this information is used and to add value to it. This includes developing and expanding rules-based diagnostic algorithms, guiding proper test selection at the point of order entry, and generating better and more comprehensive interpretive reporting. The end-user of laboratory data has traditionally been the physician and it is moving toward becoming the patient. For this to be successful, we as laboratorians, need to continue to improve the ways in which we deliver our product.
  7. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    It is difficult to do everything and to do it all well. The knowledge base keeps expanding and we need to not only know the current information but also critically appraise what is coming down the pike. Our roles also keep expanding and it is beneficial to have business and management skills in addition to scientific and clinical expertise.
  8. What specific goals would you set for young scientists to set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Goals are very personal. I think that individuals should identify what it is that gives them the most satisfaction and make it a priority to find opportunities in those areas. Similarly, we all have shortcomings and it is equally important to challenge ourselves to overcome our weaknesses. Achieving the goals one sets can be difficult because urgent issues often trump important ones. It is good to have mentors that have your best interests in mind and will help you to make it a priority to achieve your professional goals.
  9. Can you provide a tip for interviewing job candidates?
    For me, enthusiasm and passion for what you do is the single most important attribute that stands out when interviewing candidates. Once you have a job offer, my advice would be to negotiate for what you want. It can seem intimidating to come back to a potential employer and ask for more especially if it is your first offer. There is almost always room for negotiation and employers expect it. When it comes to making a final decision; trust your gut. If you can picture yourself in the position and it makes you feel good it is probably the right job.
  10. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    I have been fortunate in that I have been offered wonderful opportunities to get involved in AACC and SYCL. It has been extremely rewarding to be active within our professional society. Early on in your career when you are given opportunities within the organization, it is important to say “yes” and then follow through and do the best job possible. Although it may sound cliché – it is important to give back. When I moved to the Chicago Section, the Chair of the Section called me within a month of starting my new position, welcomed me to the Chicago section and asked if I would like to get involved. I have tried to do the same for others. Think of those who have been mentors to you or colleagues with special accomplishments and nominate them for awards, give recognition when it is deserved, express gratitude, and pass opportunities on to others.
  11. How do you resolve conflicts in the laboratory?
    I find it possible to resolve conflict if one can approach situations based on facts and logic with a pinch of compassion. Most conflict arises from emotions and perceptions, so it is important to be open-minded and listen to all sides, differentiate reality from perception, and communicate openly with all parties. The truth is often somewhere in the middle. One of my colleagues once told me that “reasonable minds prevail” and I have used that mantra in many instances.
  12. What was greatest day of your life and why?
    I have never even thought about this question. And as I think about it, I realize that I don’t live my life in “greatest days” but rather in moving averages. Realistically I know that for every “great” day there will probably be an equally “ungreat” day and my goal is to keep the mean trending upward over time. I have been fortunate so far!
  13. How do you deal with stress/pressure?
    I suppose the politically correct answer would be to say that I meditate and the stress dissolves away. But truthfully, laughter with good friends and a glass of wine are the best medicines I’ve found (preferably together but these strategies also work independently). In all seriousness, there are times when pressure is high and I think it is important to keep things in perspective, look at the bigger picture and not take oneself too seriously. Often easier said than done – which is why the friends and wine are necessary.
  14. How has your involvement in SYCL affected your career?
    Being involved in SYCL has introduced me to the value of being actively involved in a professional society. We can each operate in the microcosm of our own institution and be the best clinical laboratorians that we can be but I think it is also important contribute to the profession on a global level. AACC has been very supportive of its younger members and it is our responsibility to give back in whatever way we can and set the tone for future generations of clinical chemists. I have also met numerous kind, collegial and generous people and I have made friendships that will last a lifetime.
  15. What is the thing you like the most about laboratory medicine?
    My favorite part of what we do is that we “touch” each patient that comes through the door. Even if it’s just a routine CBC or basic metabolic panel, we are responsible for those results and our work impacts patient care. In addition, there are difficult or challenging cases where we can often make the biggest difference; whether it is identifying a rare interference or providing consultation on an atypical case. I also enjoy that every single day is different and unpredictable. As clinical laboratorians, we wear many hats and the variety of tasks and challenges keeps life interesting.
  16. What is your favorite movie and why?
    I couldn’t choose just one: “Pretty Woman” because I’m an 80’s child and it was the cinda-rella movie of the decade. “A Beautiful Mind” because it is a beautiful story of intellectual brilliance and unconditional love and acceptance. But you have to be able to buy in to Russell Crowe as a genius (and not a gladiator) to fully appreciate it. “The Hangover” because it is ridiculous and inappropriate and will make you laugh over and over.
  17. If you had the choice between a granite sculpture, a glass engraving, or a plaque, which would you choose and why?
    A granite sculpture, of course! Because I don’t have one and I think we all need a large hunk of rock.
  18. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    I think it is important to have people in your personal and professional life who you respect. There will always be challenges and less than optimal situations but knowing that there are people out there who have consistently done the right thing throughout their life is inspiring when times are tough.
    Advice is often the most meaningful when it comes from someone you respect so I would like to share advice from a previous Mentor of the Month, Dr. Jack Ladenson. He wrote: “I don’t like telling others what to do -- perhaps guiding, but not telling. One thing they might remember is that they are likely to have to look at themselves in the mirror every day. Try to make sure they live a professional life that allows for them to look at themselves and be happy with what they see.”
    Can’t say it much better than that.