American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
October 2012 Mentor of the Month: James Miller
Biography & Career
  1. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
  2. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  3. What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
  5. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  6. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  7. What in your opinion has been the most important advancement in science you’ve seen in your career and why?
  8. What in your opinion is an area in the clinical laboratory that has either not kept pace with other advancements or is in need of improvement?
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  11. What is strangest occurrence you’ve encountered in the lab, either in your career as a Medical Technologist or as Laboratory Director?
  12. How do you feel that your experiences as a Medical Technologist have influenced you throughout your career as a Clinical Chemist and Laboratory Director?
  13. How did you discover lab medicine/science and was there a particular experience that influenced you to enter graduate school after having worked as a Medical Technologist?
  14. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  15. What was the greatest day of your life and why?
  16. Having spent your professional career as a Clinical Chemist at the University of Louisville do you have any advice for young Clinical Chemists looking to establish and maintain a productive career in one academic medical center/system?
  17. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography & Career
  1. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I am currently a member of the AACC, ASCP, NACB, and Association of Pathology Informatics (API). In the past, I was quite active in the Clinical Ligand Assay Society and served on its national board or committees from 1994-2005, including President in 2001-02. Unfortunately, CLAS, like many small societies, was unsustainable. I was also active in the Ohio Valley Section of the AACC 1996 – 2004 and served as its Chair in 1997. I have been involved with several Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute document development committees, most recently including Hemolysis, Icterus, and Lipemia/Turbidity Indices as Indicators of Interference in Clinical Laboratory Analysis; Interference Testing in Clinical Chemistry; and Delta Checks in the Clinical Laboratory.
  2. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    Would you believe my mentor, Roland Valdes (Mentor of the Month, October 2009) got me involved? It is easiest to get started at the local/regional level to gain some experience. In addition, some positions at that level are automatically involved at the national level. For example, in CLAS, the chapter presidents were also on the national CLAS board of directors. As another avenue, volunteer to be a member of one or another committee. The networking opportunities will lead to invitations to be involved in other projects and nominations for elected office.
  3. What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
    I guess I would classify myself as a generalist clinical chemist because the areas I am interested in span a wide spectrum of the field and my most consistent area of interest and expertise, interferences, affects every area of clinical chemistry. I did the research component of my clinical chemistry fellowship under the mentorship of Roland Valdes, who was one of the key discoverers of digoxin-like immunoreactive factor (DLIF), which crossreacts with some digoxin assays. My interest in crossreactive interference soon led to a wider interest in assay interference of any kind. While I am still very interested in interferences, I have had a growing interest in clinical informatics.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    My most important contribution to laboratory medicine has been training many excellent clinical chemistry fellows and pathology residents.
  5. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    My involvement with CLAS has been my most rewarding. I am also particularly proud to have served on the Editorial Review Board of Lab Tests Online, representing CLAS between 2003-2006. The most challenging experience was convincing the powers that be that I deserved promotion and tenure.
  6. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    Life’s interests will differ among individuals, but it is good to have multiple interests and everything will be in balance if you don’t neglect any of your interests.
  7. What in your opinion has been the most important advancement in science you’ve seen in your career and why?
    There have been incredible advancements in many areas of science, but if I restrict my answer to clinical chemistry, I think molecular diagnostics is the most important advancement. The advancements in the techniques of testing DNA and RNA have led to pharmacogenetics, identification and characterization of microorganisms, and advances in the detection of genetic diseases.
  8. What in your opinion is an area in the clinical laboratory that has either not kept pace with other advancements or is in need of improvement?
    Much is changing in the area of information systems with the development of the electronic health record. I think these changes have progressed without collaboration among the various specialty information systems, like the LIS. I anticipate that these various information systems will communicate poorly and information may be inaccurately recorded.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    In spite of the problems with information systems, I think great strides will be made in the next decade in the area of clinical informatics. I believe there is a large amount of information buried in our data and that data is waiting to be mined.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    I think the upcoming changes in health care, including further decreases in reimbursements for laboratory medicine, will be a major challenge for young scientists in laboratory medicine. But I am optimistic that laboratorians will adapt to the changing circumstances.
  11. What is strangest occurrence you’ve encountered in the lab, either in your career as a Medical Technologist or as Laboratory Director?
    A few years ago, while I was considering whether to implement the eGFR calculation on all serum creatinine results from all patients or to restrict the calculation to outpatients, I came to realize that the lab was sending eGFR requests to one referral laboratory, which was sending them on to a second referral laboratory, which was running the serum creatinine and providing the eGFR calculation (turnaround time, 3 days)!!
  12. How do you feel that your experiences as a Medical Technologist have influenced you throughout your career as a Clinical Chemist and Laboratory Director?
    Having worked as a Medical Technologist for about 12 years, I understand what works and what doesn’t work when you put it into practice. The technologists know that I have been where they are and understand how things work.
  13. How did you discover lab medicine/science and was there a particular experience that influenced you to enter graduate school after having worked as a Medical Technologist?
    While working as supervisor of chemistry in a local lab associated with a national referral lab chain, I completed a method evaluation and the report I prepared was forwarded to the national office. A clinical chemist who read it was impressed and recommended that I look into clinical chemistry as a career. Soon after that I was working on a Ph.D. in biochemistry aiming toward that career in clinical chemistry.
  14. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    I can’t suggest your goals. You have to do that. But then keep a list of those goals and review it frequently. You can add goals and you can delete goals, but make sure you are doing things that will move you toward achieving those goals.
  15. What was the greatest day of your life and why?
    Well, all of my greatest days are because of events in my private life. But in my career as a clinical chemist there are two equally great days: when I learned I had passed the ABCC board exam and when I learned of my promotion to Associate Professor with tenure. Life as a clinical chemist would have gone on without these events, but my desired career as an academic clinical chemist required them.
  16. Having spent your professional career as a Clinical Chemist at the University of Louisville do you have any advice for young Clinical Chemists looking to establish and maintain a productive career in one academic medical center/system?
    Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine in general are professions that provide service to physicians. You need to do that in a variety of ways, but as much as possible do it in person. Go to grand rounds, case conferences, and other venues where you can be involved in discussions with physicians. After a while, they will come to you for help and they will write letters to your chair telling how valuable you are to them and why you should be promoted.
  17. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Keep learning. You don’t know it all and never will, but keep working toward that goal. Don’t assume you know what you know!! Question everything.