- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I am mainly involved in AACC, including past Chair of the Midwest section, past Chair of SYCL, and treasurer of the Molecular Pathology Division. I am also 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?
When I was in graduate school in a Clinical Chemistry training program, one of my professors planted the seed about the importance of joining a relevant professional organization early and becoming involved. I was also fortunate to know individuals already active in AACC who helped me to get involved.
My advice for others who want to get involved is to talk to their colleagues who are already members and contact their local section, division, and SYCL representatives and ask them for opportunities to be involved. These groups are always on the look-out for new faces who are interested in being involved.
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
I specialize mainly in cardiovascular-related inherited disorders and pharmacogenetics. My interest in a career as a Clinical Chemist initiated mainly from growing up with a father who was a Pathologist at a small hospital where he did both AP and CP. We lived close to the hospital and I would often ride my bike there and stop in to visit him. At the time, regulations were not as tight as they are now, and I would be able to walk through the lab and see the equipment and my Dad would show me all sorts of interesting biopsied tissues or autopsied organs. I became intrigued at how much the analysis of blood and tissue samples helped doctors make patient care decisions, so when I was finished with my undergraduate education, I entered a CLS Master of Science program in Milwaukee, WI. It was there that I learned about the Doctorate-level Clinical Chemistry program at Cleveland State University, which I promptly applied for and became enrolled in. During my graduate research at the Cleveland Clinic, I worked on lipids and genetics, and found that these two areas interested me greatly. These interests eventually evolved to where I am today, as a trained Clinical Chemist and Clinical Molecular Geneticist, and I am fortunate to be working at an institution where I have a very rewarding and fulfilling career.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
As a fellow in Clinical Molecular Genetics at Mayo, I was working with Dr. Steve Thibodeau and other colleagues and we published on the importance of performing gene dosage analyses for hereditary colon cancer. I think that these publications, along with other early adopters' publications, helped to bring recognition to the importance of comprehensive molecular analyses for optimal clinical care of genetic conditions.
I am also very excited and optimistic that some of my current projects, including those related to next generation sequencing and pharmacogenomics, will result in important contributions to the field.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
I work with an amazingly talented group of individuals. We truly work together as a team, pooling our strengths, to provide optimal clinical care for the patients that we are testing. Some of the most rewarding moments are when our genetic findings help a patient and his/her family, or when we work closely with a physician to help shed light on a clinical situation. I also feel a great sense of satisfaction when my co-workers tell me that something I've said or done has had a positive effect on them.
As far as challenging moments, dealing with bureaucracy and politics can be frustrating, but I think this is par for the course for most workplaces and should be accepted as such early in one's career.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
Opportunities at work will continually present themselves, many of them very interesting, but I think that one has to learn to limit and choose opportunities that he/she is most passionate about. This will not only help in creating a high level of job satisfaction and growth, but will also allow you to focus and not become spread too thin. Having a good mentor can be very helpful in determining which opportunities (and, importantly, which collaborators) may be a good fit for you.
It is important to be careful about the number of hours you are spending at the office and the amount of work you are bringing home. It also helps to have interests outside of work, whether it is a hobby, a sport, or even just spending time with family. If you have family, I think it is also important to put family first, whenever possible. It is not always easy to achieve this, but I have been fortunate to work at a place and in a community that has been supportive of my career and my family life. Additionally, I have an amazing husband who has always been supportive of my goals (both career- and family-related).
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
I think that the advances in genetic testing technology are going to revolutionize the practice of medicine. New opportunities will arise for laboratory bioinformatics specialists to help us make sense of the genetic data that we produce as well as integrate and deliver results to clinicians. There is also a great need for better genomics education programs for clinicians so that they can be informed for their patients.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
- Learning how to deal with the unknowns (and knowns) of an increasing regulatory environment.
- Adapting to and accepting change in this economic climate of downsizing and uncertainty.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
A major goal that I would recommend is to find a mentor and interact with that individual on a regular basis. Additional goals include finding a niche and taking every opportunity to become an expert in that area, becoming involved in professional organizations, and taking opportunities to network and enhance your education at external meetings. I think that all of these goals can be achieved by being straightforward with others about your goals, and finding people to help make connections/give advice/do things for you so that you can achieve those goals. No man (or woman) is an island, as they say, so it is important to rely on others (and recognize their contributions) to achieve goals.
- What is an average day like in your life?
My average working day involves meetings, clinical case review, research, development, and teaching. The percentage of time devoted to those activities varies from day to day, and depends on my clinical rotation. New things pop up on a daily basis, which always makes work unpredictable but usually adds to the element of interest.
- How has your involvement as an active SYCL member and former Chair of SYCL influenced your career?
When Dr. Ann Gronowski first contacted me to help start up the group that is now called SYCL, I was thrilled! I felt extremely fortunate to be one of the founding members. For me, the best parts of being active in SYCL were not only starting something from the ground up and the great learning experience that it was, but all the great connections I made. I don't think we can underestimate the importance of networking for career enhancement. Being part of SYCL has also helped reinforce in me the need for mentorship of early- and even mid-career individuals.
- What do you think is the most important leadership skill?
A combination of skills and traits, such as humility, honesty, integrity, and recognizing the value of and empowering others, is what makes individuals good leaders. Good leaders are good listeners, they ask for others' input before making decisions, they are respectful to everyone, they recognize value in everyone, they empower individuals to use their skill sets and make relevant decisions, and they are honest and forthcoming.
- What is your experience and thoughts regarding clinical adoption of pharmacogenetic testing?
In my experience, there are several pharmacogenetic (PGx) tests out there with proven clinical utility yet clinical uptake of most of these tests has been disappointing. There are several barriers that have prevented more widespread adoption of PGx tests, including cost of testing, turn-around-time for results, lack of knowledge of how to apply the results clinically, and insufficient outcomes data from large, randomized, prospective trials. While many of these arguments against pharmacogenetic testing are valid to a certain extent, there are also some unrealistic expectations. However, overall, I believe with improved testing technology and the ability to more meaningfully integrate and interpret multiple genetic and clinical factors, the adoption of PGx testing will improve.
- What is your favorite textbook or article you have read?
I don't think I have one particular textbook or article that I could name as my favorite, although one of my favorite textbooks, especially when I was studying for the boards, is Human Molecular Genetics by Strachan and Read. I also think that the Metabolic and Molecular Bases of Inherited Disease (Scriver) is a fantastic resource. As far as reading for fun, I like to read biographies about extraordinary individuals that inspire me to be a better person. While fiction certainly has its merits (especially historical fiction, in my opinion), in general, I have found non-fiction to be more interesting, exciting, and satisfying.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
I truly believe that in order to find fulfillment in your career, you have to be passionate about what you do. So, I would like to reiterate the importance of finding an area of work that really interests you and making choices that enable you to become an expert in that area. In addition to this, other keys to success and fulfillment in the workplace are to be honest, recognize the value in those around you, be approachable, and don't forget to laugh! Finally, living a life of gratitude (whether at work or at home) is so important: don't lose sight of the fact that you are fortunate to be doing what you love, and that you probably work with some pretty terrific people.