- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
My primary professional involvement is with AACC, however, I still maintain involvement with ASCLS, ASCP and SAFMLS (Society of Armed Forces Medical Laboratory Scientists). Additionally I serve on the Commission on Accreditation in Clinical Chemistry, the American Board of Clinical Chemistry, the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences and some CLSI document development committees. I actively participate in science and technology programs with 4H and local/state science and engineering fairs.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
Simple...I volunteered. I have yet to find a professional organization that turns away a volunteer. Even for those positions that have lots of volunteers, a good organization won’t just say no, they’ll redirect to other opportunities within the organization where they have needs. But, once you raise your hand the opportunities can become overwhelming and you have to learn to say no to some things. But don’t do that without consideration. Talk to others in the organization and your mentors before saying no. You don’t know what future door that current volunteer project may open. The value of not just belonging, but participation in professional organizations became clear when I volunteered for local positions within the Michigan ASCLS chapter. I quickly found the networking invaluable to solving problems within and outside my professional environment. The skills developed managing people in a volunteer organization were fundamental to later administrative duties I encountered in my career.
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
Although not a current specialization, my work with bioweapon detection was definitely a specialty area combining clinical chemistry, microbiology, diplomacy and politics. The choice was made by the needs of the Army...but it was attractive because of the multidisciplinary nature of the work. My military experience was very important in learning how to create and use teams to solve problems, and I find that “specialization” important to working within the current healthcare environment. So I would say my current “special interest” is getting the clinical chemist more involved with the healthcare team process.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
Helping to recruit and train the next generation of clinical laboratory scientists and clinical chemists. The profession sits on the shoulders of the people in it. If we can find the best and motivate them to continue with a vision of excellence, the profession and society win.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
That is a tough one. I find that even the small rewards are worth thinking about and feeling good about, so no one “most” rewarding thing comes to mind. Solving last weeks discrepancy between a total testosterone and IgF-1 is as rewarding as getting promoted or receiving an award.
The most challenging moment of my career was the decision to leave a comfortable academic position to serve on active duty in the US Army. That required uprooting the family and moving away from where we had spent our entire lives...and the possibility of combat. It however, opened up the door for the fellowship in clinical chemistry and my current position at Children’s...so I can’t complain and have few regrets. Interestingly, my daughter misses having to move around and doesn’t like the decision to be a civilian again.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I’ve been reading the book “Off-Balance: Getting beyond the work-life balance myth to personal and professional satisfaction” by Matthew Kelly. It really hits on the fact that we don’t have a separate work life and personal life...we have A life. One that combines professional and personal aspects that are intimately linked and attempting to balance them may be going the wrong direction. The goal is to be satisfied with our whole life experience. While a simplification of the message, Kelly gives three principles: Say yes to those things that help you become the best version of yourself (no to those that don’t); lead a virtuous life in the classical Greek sense of virtue; and have self-control, be able to delay gratification...many things take time to achieve true satisfaction.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
I believe we will be much more actively involved in the healthcare process. The typical patient (and clinicians!) of the future will know the difference between the phlebotomist, medical technologist and clinical chemist, because all of us will have more interaction outside of the laboratory, advising clinicians and patients in the appropriate use of laboratory services. While this was discussed when I started my career in the 1980’s, I believe that latest issues which we face with health care costs and efficiencies will only highlight what we as laboratorians have always been able to provide to the healthcare team. But now the pressures to perform for lower cost, with greater efficiency etc will make neglecting our contribution impossible. However, just like successful professional organizations require people to volunteer...we have to “volunteer” and market ourselves better if this vision is to come true.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
I think the biggest challenge is to see any challenge from the perspective of how it can make you better. You don’t become a successful athlete without challenging your muscles or a successful academic without challenging your brain. Every challenge provides an opportunity to get stronger, to be more satisfied with what you’ve done. So you can’t avoid challenge...you should seek it. All of the leaders and visionaries in our profession have undoubtedly failed at several challenges they faced...but they faced them, learned from them and became the people we look up to today. They didn’t get there by hiding in their offices or labs and not accepting challenges and dealing with failure.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Probably the best (and most difficult) goal is to have goals! Develop a process where you regularly take time to look into the future and think about where you want to be. Unless your goal is to be a hermit, don’t do this in isolation, involve both the professional and personal significant others in your life. Then make plans for the intermediate steps needed to achieve those goals and regularly review your progress toward those. It is important to be honest and realistic, but also to set high goals...having only easy to achieve goals can be counterproductive.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
If you’re not smiling, find some time to think about why. We will always have those days, or even longer periods, when life throws a curveball. If you take the time to see the bigger picture, to assess if you are still moving in the right direction, you’ll make it thru the rough time. Perhaps more importantly, you may realize you’re not going in the right direction and you need to make a change...either way...you will get back to smiling.
- Can you provide a tip for interviewing job candidates?
Spend time to learn about the organization interviewing you. What are their goals? Where do they see the hospital/company in 5, 10 or 20 years. Then market yourself on how you can help them achieve those goals. Do you have skills in mass spectrometry that they lack? Do you have experience in six sigma/lean operations? You have to find what you can bring to their needs. Simply being a clinical chemist isn’t enough. If you look and you can’t find those goals...you might not want to work for them. A rudderless ship is not a good place to be.
- How do you resolve conflicts in the laboratory?
I think the most important piece to conflict resolution is listening. You have to actively listen to all involved parties and listen with an open mind. No matter what decision you make, if one party feels that their concerns were not listened too...you still have a problem. It is also important to clearly explain your decision so they know you listened. You don’t have to meet everyone’s “demands”, but I’ve found that if they know you’ve listened and weighed their thoughts and concerns your decision will have their respect, even if they didn’t get everything they wanted.
- What is your favorite textbook or article you’ve read?
The book “Random Walks in Biology” by Howard Berg is definitely my favorite. When I first read his text in the 1990’s it provided the “light bulb” moment for my understanding of several techniques and concepts we use in the clinical laboratory. Prior to reading that text I could explain electrophoresis and chromatography...but really more of a memorized explanation, not a true conceptual understanding that allowed me to fully use the techniques capabilities. Bergs text explained those processes (and others in biochemistry and biology) from the statistical physics perspective. I now firmly believe we should all learn physics first, then chemistry and then biology, contrary to the typical pattern in the United States with biology first, and maybe chemistry and physics. It’s all physics underneath the hood!
- How do think the field of clinical chemistry has changed thus far in your career?
I think the most noticeable changes have been in automation and safety. Throughput in a small laboratory today is light years ahead of what we could do in a large regional laboratory when I first started. Daily maintenance alone required significant time and resources that prohibited increased throughput. In my first position we routinely ate our meals while handling samples in the laboratory and one supervisor advised me to deliberately expose myself to a known hepatitis B patient sample so I could get “immunized”. I cannot even imagine working like that today.
- How do you try to achieve getting those that are not in laboratory medicine interested or excited about what you do?
We invite high school students and undergraduates in chemistry to tour the laboratory. For the college students we highlight how the knowledge they are gaining is a foundation to the testing we do every day and the satisfaction possible in using that knowledge and skill to solving complex clinical questions. I also highlight how my training in laboratory medicine has provided opportunities to “sell myself” in nutritional physiology, bioweapon detection and fish physiology...that we are not just stuck in a hospital setting. And of course I discuss how well we are paid relative to basic researchers.