- Can you briefly tell us about your educational and career background?
From middle school I had a strong interest in science that lead to me to do an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and medical school. My initial plan was to do internal medicine and then specialize in endocrinology. After a couple of years I realized that I could have a career that blended science and medicine in Laboratory Medicine. I did a residency and fellowship in Clinical Pathology at the University of Minnesota and also a PhD there. I was on the faculty at the University of Michigan for several years when I had an opportunity to go back to Minnesota to be Director of Clinical Laboratories, a position I’ve held for the past 9 years.
- How did you discover laboratory medicine?
I knew about laboratory medicine from my medical school days when we studied pathology. I always thought it seemed like a great subject, a true bridge between the basic sciences and the patient.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I’ve been involved in AACC for over 2 decades and with the CAP for nearly as long. Earlier in my career I was involved with the Association for Molecular Pathology.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
In the AACC, I think the best way for young people to get involved is through either the Divisions or their Local Section. My experience in the Molecular Diagnostics Division was very enjoyable. They offer great networking opportunities and the possibility of taking on some leadership roles. Of course, going to the Annual Meeting, and presenting at the scientific portion of the meeting is very important. That can be through presenting a poster or participating in one of the scientific presentations as a speaker. The entry to all of these is having some interesting scientific work to present, and it’s very important for young people to cultivate their scientific interests.
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
My main interest is clinical chemistry. I can trace that back to middle school! But to me, clinical chemistry today is a broad area that includes much of molecular diagnostics. If there’s a lab test that benefits a patient, then it interests me.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I have been involved with the CAP in the improvement of laboratory quality through the Chemistry and Instrumentation Resource Committees. We have shown the need for assay harmonization and standardization for many assays. Now, we are producing proficiency testing materials for more and more surveys that are graded based on accuracy. This allows us to tell where we are with the quality of assays, and pushes manufacturers to improve those assays that are not performing adequately. I think that improving the quality of assays is one of the most important things that we can do. I’ve been involved in that line of work for the last decade. It’s been very satisfying.
- What is your most effective time management skill?
“Begin with the end in mind”. When you’re doing something, you have to know that it’s important and deserves your time and attention. If there’s something that’s really more important, then ask why aren’t you working on it? A “to-do” list is invaluable, but you must prioritize the items.
- Who are your role models or mentors?
My mentors and role models are my former professors, now my colleagues. I have several colleagues at Minnesota who I’ve known since my early resident days, people like John Eckfeldt and Mike Steffes. They’ve been great role models and great colleagues. I’ve met many great people through my work on AACC and CAP committees. There are always people we can learn from, and they don’t have to be people we actually know. Right now I’m reading a biography of Winston Churchill. There’s much to learn from his life: his complete immersion in his work, how to bounce back from defeat, how to behave in victory, how to motivate and lead. There’s a lot to learn from the study of the great men and women of history, both from their successes and their failures.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
That’s going to vary for different people, so it’s hard to generalize. First of all, one has to be aware of the need to balance work and non-work. Many people talk about the distinction between work and family life. But I think there’s also a need for time to cultivate personal interests. Most people will be aware of what’s the right balance for them. Once you recognize it, then try to organize your time so that you can achieve it.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
I think we will continue to see rapid advances in molecular diagnostics. The $1,000 (or even less expensive) genome will change cancer diagnostics and therapeutics in ways that we can only imagine. Personalized medicine, by which I mean tailoring treatment to each patient based on his or her biological characteristics, will continue to grow in importance, especially in oncology, but also in selection of other classes of drugs and perhaps other sorts of therapies.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
The biggest challenge is getting time to develop one’s career. You have to learn to say ‘no’ to every demand on your time. It’s important to have a mentor whom you trust and with whom you can discuss ideas. In academia, grant support is important, but I see a trend away from solo research to being a participant in team projects. That’s a domain in which the clinical laboratory scientist can really contribute a set of skills that other scientists often don’t have.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years and 10 years. How are you going to get there? Map it out, with advice from trusted colleagues if necessary. You need to review it and adjust as needed (which is one of the benefits of doing annual reviews in the workplace) but do try to stick to it.
- What in your opinion has been the most important advancement in science you’ve seen in your career and why?
The Human Genome Project has opened the door to new ways of thinking about disease, of finding new disease genes and disease markers. With large scale sequencing around the corner, that project will really come to fruition. So I think that advances in genetics, broadly speaking, have been the most important development I’ve seen. But there are other important advances that have happened, too. The quality of many assays has improved greatly. There are new biomarkers of non-genetic diseases that are in daily use. If I may answer the opposite question, which you didn’t ask, I would have hoped that lab informatics, and health informatics in general, would be much more sophisticated by now.
- As you have spent your career in laboratory medicine do you believe that we are adequately educating medical students in understanding laboratory values and laboratory medicine in general?
No we are not! I believe that most medical students are not getting a proper exposure to laboratory medicine, even though the lab and imaging have become the backbone of clinical diagnostics for many specialties. We who work in medical schools need to intercalate ourselves into the teaching programs to a greater extent. And it’s not just at the medical school level. Residents could benefit from formal exposure to lab medicine; in fact, they may be a better audience because they’re ordering tests themselves and so may be more aware of the need to learn about this area.
- As the recent Annual Meeting Organizing Committee Chair can you tell us what was the most challenging or surprising detail of planning and coordinating the AACC Annual Meeting?
That experience was very rewarding for me. The process went very smoothly in general, in large part because of the excellence of the staff in the AACC office. The committee was really great and everyone contributed to the success of the meeting. The most surprising thing for me was how much effort was required to prepare the CME documents. I prepared an 80-page submission for CME accreditation for the meeting. I had no idea how much was involved in that aspect of the program! All of that is required by the organization that issues CME credits, so it’s beyond the control of AACC.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
There has never been a more exciting time to be in clinical chemistry and laboratory medicine. Seize the opportunity, get involved, do something important!