American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
September 2011 Mentor of the Month: Peter Heseltine
Biography & Career
  1. Can you briefly tell us about your educational and career background?
  2. With which professional societies are you actively involved with?
  3. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved.
  4. You began your career in clinical practice, specializing in Infectious Disease, but have since also expanded your interests into laboratory medicine, what inspired this change?
  5. Which aspect of the transition from a clinical practice to a laboratory career proved the most challenging?
  6. Having been in both clinical practice and laboratory medicine would you focus on one area more than the other if you had the opportunity to begin your career again?
  7. As you have been in leadership positions throughout your career are there any specific skills or strategies that have helped you be an effective leader?
  8. What in your opinion has been the most important advancement in science you’ve seen in your career and why?
  9. As you have been involved in both publicly and privately funded research studies which areas of research are you currently interested in?
  10. What was greatest day of your life and why?
  11. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  12. What is your most effective time management skill?
  13. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  14. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  15. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  16. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  17. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography & Career
  1. Can you briefly tell us about your educational and career background?
    After high school in Latin America and Ireland, I completed college and medical school at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. My postdoctoral training was at Yale University and the University of California, Los Angeles. My training as a scientist and a clinician was largely because of HIV/AIDS. I saw the beginning, when all I could do was listen, to the advances in diagnosis and management that have saved many and made so many lives better. But thirty years later, the lack of our efforts to prevent new infections requires a whole new thinking of what medicine is about. This is a real research need that must be applied to many other health issues.
  2. With which professional societies are you actively involved with?
    Throughout my career I have been most actively involved with the American Society for Microbiology, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology and more recently with AACC and the International Society for Laboratory Hematology
  3. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved.
    Volunteer! Find a mentor whose work interests you. Most of the “old guard” are both approachable & very willing to recruit new talent to the professional society. Start by volunteering for a local program or elections committee. You’ll meet them there.
  4. You began your career in clinical practice, specializing in Infectious Disease, but have since also expanded your interests into laboratory medicine, what inspired this change?
    Healthcare is all about getting the best out of the technology for patients, enabling them to lead better & more productive lives. Managing HIV/AIDS taught me the value clinicians bring to the laboratory and the developer, as advocates for how to use the new technology and how to harness its power to answer the questions important to patients. The treatments could not have been developed without the ability to measure their effect in the laboratory. It’s also a lot of fun to work with new technologies!
  5. Which aspect of the transition from a clinical practice to a laboratory career proved the most challenging?
    Balancing the necessarily qualitative, clinical use of a new test or other diagnostic with the required quantitative, scientific understanding of its ability to measure and so deliver an accurate clinical answer.
  6. Having been in both clinical practice and laboratory medicine would you focus on one area more than the other if you had the opportunity to begin your career again?
    No. I believe I have been extraordinarily fortunate to go from the bedside to the laboratory and then to manufacturing & development. This “reverse” perspective has allowed me to temper my enthusiasm for the new with the constant need to think of the patient.
  7. As you have been in leadership positions throughout your career are there any specific skills or strategies that have helped you be an effective leader?
    Throughout your career you will meet people far more brilliant than you. Cultivate and help promote those people where and when you can, particularly when they are starting out in their careers. Sometimes they may have difficulty explaining their ideas or work to other colleagues. If you can, help others see and act on their vision.
  8. What in your opinion has been the most important advancement in science you’ve seen in your career and why?
    The improvements in metrology tools, aided by inexpensive computers. These allow us to examine more rigorously and compare good with better and know the difference. With this scientific approach we have increased critical thinking and advanced the management of complex diseases, from childhood leukemia to genetic disorders.
  9. As you have been involved in both publicly and privately funded research studies which areas of research are you currently interested in?
    Minimizing the risk to patients and maximizing the advantages of new technologies and automating older ones is the pressing quest for clinicians, laboratory professionals and manufacturers. How do we make it better, faster and more accessible for more people? We have extraordinary healthcare challenges in cancer, infection and delivery of the best care worldwide. Molecular, proteomic and computational tools all require new concepts in managing their quality and risk to patients. These are topics to interest me for a lifetime.
  10. What was greatest day of your life and why?
    I’ve been very fortunate to have many great days: Days you see a student succeed whom you helped graduate. Days you help a patient feel a bit more secure or better prepared. Days when you look back and realize the problem you have been working on has actually advanced, despite long & slow progress.
  11. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    Do some physical exercise every day and do the same for your mind. Remember, your family, friends and community are the reason you live. You do not live to work.
  12. What is your most effective time management skill?
    Pause for a moment and decide what you will actually be able to accomplish today. Then go for it. The rest will have to wait.
  13. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    Technologies and practices that will drive better, clinically relevant accuracy with less bias and variability. Extracting more information from smaller and more easily collected specimens. These advances will drive the new personalized treatments and allow us to measure their value quickly with fewer experiments and translate them into clinical practice. Whether this is in measuring minimal residual disease as part of real-time cancer therapy monitoring or rapidly identifying protein expression targets in bacteria or viruses, they will be the tools most written about. There must also be a better collaboration between clinicians, laboratory and manufacturers to assure the continuity of flow of this new technology is seamless, safe and effective.
  14. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Learning skills that will be of use, no matter the advances of technology. If you play a sport you are familiar with the concept of muscle memory. Your mind needs similar training. You need the ability to foster your critical thinking that employs everything you know and much that others may too. We have information overload, with more accessible knowledge than ever before in our history, but must constantly challenge our best talent as scientists - to think through problems and communicate that thinking clearly. You can only do this with a lot of practice
  15. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    The great(est) days, I’ve already described. The biggest challenges include failure to meet the needs of a patient; the failure to persuade colleagues what you think to be the right course or to gain their recognition of your hard work. But then often they are right! As you grow older, you will be challenged when realizing your mentors are no longer there and you have to reach back in your mind to recall what they might have suggested.
  16. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Follow your passion. It’s a lot easier to learn more and so make real contributions to something you are passionate about, than something that merely interests you. Look at challenges as potential sources of new learning rather than roadblocks. Solving one or two of these challenges will give you the confidence to aim higher. Don’t be mired by any failure, however deep it may seem at the moment. Always try to work with people you respect and who respect you. The corollary is, always respect the motives of the people with whom you work. Otherwise, why are you working there?
  17. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    We are incredibly fortunate to work in laboratory sciences and healthcare. We never have to worry whether it’s worth it or what value it brings. But look into the face of a patient once in a while to reinforce this and erase some of your own grind.