February 2012 Mentor of the Month: Nathalie Lepage
Biography & Career
  1. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved? AND
    How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?

    *Provincial: Prenatal screening Ontario I am the laboratory director for prenatal screening (since 1998 and there is no end date yet!). Given the complexity of the program, I was interested in the development of technical guidelines when I began my career in 1998. My involvement with the guidelines granted me access to the prenatal screening steering committee 14 years ago. I took on the leadership role of the chair of the sub-committee on chemistry issues for 6 years (2003-2009), with implementation of education sessions.

    Advice: Be passionate about science, to become a content expert. Be rigorous about knowledge translation, to rely on evidence-based medicine!

    *Provincial: Quality Management Program- Laboratory Services – committee on endocrinology, immunology, prenatal screening (EQA provider, Ontario, Canada) My involvement with Prenatal screening Ontario was beneficial and I was recruited first as a committee member (in 2003), then selected to chair the EQA committee on endocrinology (2009-2012).

    Advice: Be skilled at time management, to be able to commit to committees and challenges at levels beside local involvement!

    *Canadian: Canadian Society of Clinical Chemists (CSCC) and Canadian Academy of Clinical Biochemistry (CACB) CACB is the organization that is responsible for the training, credentials, certification and continuous development of clinical biochemists in Canada. CSCC is the organization that promotes clinical biochemistry in Canada and beyond. I became involved with the CACB because of two main reasons 1) my goal of personal continuous development and my interest in ensuring the rules and regulations being developed will meet my expectations ; 2) my general goal of highest quality standards for clinical biochemistry throughout the country. My involvement was appreciated and I became the Chair of the CACB board of directors from 2009 to 2011.

    Advice: Be a role model for your colleagues by contributing your ideas at the inception of new programs and at regular intervals for their revisions, to become a reference on the management of the continuous improvement cycles!

    * Canadian: Canadian College of Medical Genetics (CCMG) CCMG is the organization that is responsible for the training, credentials, certification, and promotion of medical genetics in Canada. I became involved with the certification committee, in the sub-specialty of biochemical genetics in 2004. The committee required a francophone examiner, and I kindly accepted. In 2006, I became the chair of the sub-specialty committee. My participation was for three cycles (one cycle every two years). Hence my term as the chair was 2006-2010. The role of examiner is extremely important. The selection of topics for the exam is an art!

    Advice: Be involved in the certification committee in your specialty field, to ensure you keep abreast of all new methodologies and markers discussed and implemented over the years.

    *American: AACC, Pediatric and Maternal Fetal Division (PMF), Annual Meeting Organizing Committee (AMOC) 2009 and 2013. I was invited to become a member at large on the PMF division in 2001. This was the best opportunity to get to know colleagues with the same interest and with similar laboratory and clinical issues. Over the years, my involvement kept increasing. I was elected as the chair elect 2008-2009, then became the division chair 2010-2011. My involvement as a board member will be completed with my role as nomination chair 2012-2013. AACC is hosting a wonderful annual meeting with a phenomenal number of attendees. I was privileged to be invited as the brown bag coordinator on the AMOC 2009 team. Lots of work, yes, but the number of friends that you make is worth all the effort you put. When you commit and your work is appreciated, you get invited a second time, hence my involvement with the AMOC 2013!

    Advice: Join one or more AACC divisions and take on responsibilities, to become a content expert and to build important network with colleagues around the world! Once you are known at the division level, expect to be contacted for other AACC duties, and consider every opportunity!

    One final advice:
    Science comes first, rigorous work comes second. Once you are a content expert, communication of your invaluable skills will open doors!

  2. What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
    My fields of specialty are pediatric biochemistry, biochemical genetics, prenatal screening and quality management. My interest in those areas started at the undergraduate level, and was further developed during my training years as a fellow. Knowledge is never stagnant, and I continue to learn, and daily I can confirm my keen interest in those areas.
  3. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine so far in your career?
    My answer has to include two aspects. 1) My involvement in the field of pediatric reference intervals, a project that benefits all laboratories and that bring daily challenges. 2) My leadership skills that aim for an environment that is collegial and full of teaching opportunities and personal continuous development.
  4. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career so far?
    Rewarding moments:
    In my role of chair of the AACC Pediatric and Maternal Fetal Division, I was honored to give a tribute for two recipients of “Outstanding Contributions to the Pediatric and Maternal-Fetal Division”. The recipient for the 2010 award was Dr Ed Ashwood, and for the 2011 award was Dr Vijay Grey. These two persons are exceptional, their contributions to the field are outstanding and I even present them as my friends!
    Similarly, in my role of chair of the CACB Board of directors, I was honored to give a tribute for two recipients of “CACB award for outstanding contribution to the profession of clinical biochemistry”. The recipient for the 2010 award was Dr Wolfgang Schneider, and for the 2011 award was Dr John Krahn. Their role in education and certification are remarkable. In preparation for my tribute, I had the privilege to discuss with their staff in the laboratories. What an excellent way to discover how these persons are appreciated in their own working environment!
    Challenging moments:
    The field of biochemical genetics is incredibly stimulating. New methodologies, new markers, new diseases are part of the landscape. However there are challenging moments, when abnormal laboratory profiles end up on your desk for interpretation, and when results are provided to patients and families.
  5. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    My list of five items on “how to” could be regarded as simple, however they work for me.
    1)Decide on your preferred schedule. Do you prefer 6:30-15:00, or 8:30-17:00, or 10:00-18:30?
    2)Communicate to your administrative assistant your preferred schedule. He/she must not be allowed to book meetings outside your schedule.
    3)Take 30-45 minutes off, during your weekly schedule, at least 2 or 3 times per week. This time should be sacred and cannot be replaced by meetings, phone calls, etc. This time has to be spent on physical activities. Register to a fitness class, go for a run/walk, do yoga in your office, etc. You will be amazed the energy level you will have for your remainder of day. I have registered to fitness classes for the past 10 years. They are held at lunch time, 35 minutes, 3 times per week. It took me three years of declining “meeting requests” before my co-workers understood that I was not available at lunch time on those days. Be perseverant.
    4)Exceptional circumstances will happen where you will not be able to maintain your preferred schedule. Restrict those days to maximum 5 per month.
    5)Oh by the way I have four kids (5 to 16 years)! Yes weekends are busy. Sometimes I feel like a taxi driver more than a mother…I rarely can rely on weekends to catch up on overdue issues. Be efficient during your week days.
  6. If you were to start your career again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
    Request dedicated time for academic activities (teaching, research).
  7. What are your predictions for advances in biochemical genetics over the next ten years?
    Improved usage of tandem mass spectrometry: consolidation of many tests actually done on other and dedicated platforms. Risk factors or specific laboratory markers to be identified for autism syndrome.
  8. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    *Deciding on career path (hospital-based laboratory, private laboratory, community-based laboratory, university-based laboratory, industry, POCT, etc.). This initial decision could have long-lasting impact on job opportunities and promotion
    *Identifying a specialty that will be associated with academic productivity
    *Addressing pre-analytical issues, improving communication between the laboratory and other departments in the Hospital
  9. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    *Be confident that you can accomplish the tasks that you have been assigned.
    *You can rely on your colleagues when needed.
  10. What is your favorite book?
    I like fiction, action, and do not need happy endings. I recently discovered Philip Kerr (Berlin noir trilogy). An initial trilogy followed by at least 4 books, action 1934 until after second world war. I also recently discovered Tom Rob Smith (Child 44, Kolyma). Action is based in Russia in early 1900. Ambience provides a poignant description of quality of life based on social ranking. Millennium trilogy by S. Larsson. I did read the French translation. I suspect the English version is also well written.
  11. Who are your role models or mentors?
    Over the years, I was lucky to work with many role models. My teacher from grade 6, who initiated me to leadership role. My program director (from clinical biochemistry fellowship), whose enthusiasm of his work was contagious. My pediatric clinical biochemist colleague, who was able to demonstrate that this field is SO rewarding that you should never hesitate to work on assignments for the benefit of pediatric biochemistry. My clinical biochemist colleague, whose leadership skills and amazing capacity in meeting deadlines is a daily inspiration.
  12. Can you provide a tip for interviewing job candidates?
    You have to know your strengths, your goals and where you predict you will be in 10 years.
  13. How do you think orphan disease testing will be affected by improved diagnostics?
    It can only gain on efficiency and improved turn around times!
  14. If you had an unlimited supply of funding, what would you do?
    Hire additional staff for method development
  15. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Be confident, you have strengths that you should share!
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