American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
February 2007 Clinical Laboratory News: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Clinical Chemists

 

 February 2007: Volume  33, Number 2

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Clinical Chemists
Mentors Offer Advice to Laboratorians
By Richard Pizzi

In 1990, when Stephen Covey published his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it became a blueprint for personal development in the business world. Still popular today, the book cover boasts the tagline “over 10 million sold.” While no doubt Covey’s habits can be used by anyone, you might ask, “What makes a highly effective clinical chemist?”

Each month on the AACC Web site, the Society for Young Clinical Laboratorians (SYCL) posts an interview with a “Mentor of the Month”—a prominent laboratorian who might be seen as a role model for those new to the profession. The interviews cover many topics, from current research interests to advice on achieving career goals. The mentors even discuss the least appealing aspects of lab medicine and offer predictions about the future of the field.

A close reading of these interviews yields some extraordinarily practical advice. Common themes emerge in the reflections of the mentors, revealing ways of working and living that lead to happiness on and off the job. These themes might best be expressed as “habits,” akin to those described by Covey. Here, CLN summarizes the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Clinical Chemists” that may be of use to laboratorians, young and old alike, on their career path.

Habit 1: Specialize

Many of the SYCL mentors interviewed said that it is important for a laboratorian to find a focus or “niche” in the field of laboratory medicine in order to increase the probability of achieving success.

Carl T. Wittwer, PhD
“Find a niche that excites you and focus on becoming an expert in the area. Establish your expertise first, and then branch out through networking and organization contacts.”

Emily S. Winn-Deen, PhD
“I think the biggest challenge facing young scientists in general is to find a field they love to work in. Science just seems to be getting bigger, and with so many choices, it becomes hard to stumble on the right thing by chance. Rotations through all aspects of lab medicine should help a young trainee identify the areas that excite them the most, and allow them to focus on those areas.”

Mary Burritt, PhD
“I think the field is wide open for the young scientists; their biggest issue may be choosing an area of focus. The younger scientist needs to identify an area of focus in the lab that he or she finds interesting and exciting and begin to develop skills and an expertise in that area.”

Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD
“It would be advisable for young scientists in laboratory medicine to choose an area that suits their talents and specialize as much as possible. Becoming a highly specialized and recognizable clinical chemist can open up many doors and offer high rewards with new jobs, equipment, consulting, promotions, etc.”

Elizabeth Rohlfs, PhD
“Finding the first good position where you can establish your reputation and develop a niche is critical to getting your career started.”

Robert H. Christenson, PhD
“Focus on, and develop an area of expertise; if possible, on a high prevalence condition. Probability of achievement is enhanced if one works hard and is on the alert for opportunities; remember that luck is indeed the residue of design.”

Fred S. Apple, PhD
“Find an area in research that you can slowly build a story around. I am a strong believer that research, applied or basic, needs to be a strong part of the added value to our profession.”

SYCL—A Home for Young Clinical Chemists

SYCL stands for the Society for Young Clinical Laboratorians, a special program created to serve the needs of younger AACC members. SYCL automatically enrolls members under the age of 40 as well as those in training programs. There is no application or fee to join.

The SYCL Web site provides information for those early in their careers, including practical advice on such things as preparing for board exams, landing a new job, securing travel grants, and participating in special programs for younger members.

SYCL sponsors the “Mentor of the Month” interview as well as the SYCL Seminar Series, which sends young clinical laboratory scientists back to their graduate schools to educate other young scientists about clinical laboratory medicine and to encourage them to explore the possibility of a career in the field.

Habit 2: Stay Up-to-date

The SYCL mentors agree that laboratorians need to make consistent efforts to seek out more training in the field of clinical chemistry, to broaden their experience, and acquire new qualifications.

Jocelyn M. Hicks, PhD
“I suggest getting more qualifications. Someone trained in [both] microbiology and clinical chemistry would be extremely valuable. Learn about financial management and management in general.”

Emily S. Winn-Deen, PhD
“The first part of any scientist’s goals needs to be to get the education and training required to have a solid foundation for a career filled with lifelong learning. Change is a part of science and medicine, so you need to embrace the challenge to learn new things rather than to fear or dread it.”

Jack A. Maggiore, PhD
“Never stop learning. Continue to read your professional journals, embrace new technologies, and attend continuing education programs. Innovative thinking will prevent your obsolescence.”

David E. Bruns, MD
“It is hard to stay up-to-date in laboratory medicine, and it is particularly challenging to do that and also be competitive for research funding. Thus, a challenge is to find ways to stay current and creative, and to have the discipline to make those things happen.”

Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD
“I believe that one of the most important attributes of any scientist is quick adaptation to new technologies in new fields. I am constantly updating my knowledge through my interactions with my students and following what is happening in the literature.”

Frank Henry Wians, Jr., PhD
“Learn as much as you can about as many clinical chemistry topics as possible. My personal preference was to know a little about a lot of different clinical chemistry topics and a lot about only a few topics. In this field, knowledge truly is power.”

Habit 3: Find a Mentor and be a Mentor

Most of the SYCL mentors attribute their own success in part to the support of one or more clinical chemists who mentored them on their climb up the career ladder. The SYCL mentors recommend that all laboratorians seek out the guidance of a mentor, and eventually serve as mentors themselves.

Larry Kricka, DPhil
“Finding the right environment that is supportive to research and a mentor willing to help in the development and furtherance of your career are important factors for success.”

Susan A. Evans, PhD
“It has been rewarding to have the opportunity to be a mentor and to see the younger scientists and engineers you worked with develop into major contributors to the field.”

Jocelyn M. Hicks, PhD
“I have always tried to mentor those who have worked with me to realize their full potential. I have encouraged outstanding technologists to get PhD or MD degrees. My proudest achievement was to see a technician without a bachelor’s degree go back to school and get her bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.”

Emily S. Winn-Deen, PhD
“Work for and with people you can model as mentors. Think about where you would like to go with your career, and seek out individuals who are there today and can help you move your career in the right direction.”

Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD
“As a mentor to many young scientists, my job is to make sure that all these people have the resources to conduct their research under the best possible conditions. A good mentor can save five to ten years of wondering by showing the right path to the young.”

Ann Gronowski, PhD
“As for all young professionals, I think it is hard to get that first chance. So many times you need experience to get experience. A good mentor can help you get that first job, or committee appointment, or book chapter, but some times it’s hard to find a good mentor.”

Habit 4: Get Involved in AACC

The SYCL mentors suggest that laboratorians participate in AACC, beginning with their local sections. AACC local section meetings are a great way to meet contacts, build connections in the field, and contribute to the profession.

Susan A. Evans, PhD
“Becoming involved and supporting the organizations that support your profession is an important way of giving back. Share your expertise by networking at meetings or contributing to listserv discussions. Raise your hand and say you want to contribute. You won’t have to worry about waiting for an opening on a committee.”

Mary Burritt, PhD
“I strongly recommend involvement in AACC. This is a great way to make contacts, network, and enhance your skills. Most of the mentors that I had as a young clinical chemist were colleagues and senior scientists that I met through my involvement in AACC.”

Jack A. Maggiore, PhD
“I became involved in the AACC while I was a student, assisting my academic advisor by monitoring the educational programs of the AACC Chicago section. Attendance at the local section meetings provided the opportunity to build a tremendous network of colleagues from a multitude of backgrounds.”

Mitchell G. Scott, PhD
“If you want to be involved in AACC, let leaders of the organization know that you do. They are always looking for volunteers. Local section and division jobs are a great place to start.”

Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD
“I would advise young people to participate consistently at annual meetings, get to know the best people in the field. Becoming a recognized member of a large organization is a step-wise process that often takes many years. There is no such a thing as instant recognition.”

Ann Gronowski, PhD
“I got started in AACC through my local section. I would advise young people who want to get involved to volunteer for lots of things, and don’t give up if you are not asked the first time. If you are asked to get involved, be sure to do your best and follow through.”

Robert H. Christenson, PhD
“I got started with a poster session at the 1978 AACC meeting in San Francisco. Network with people and let other professionals know you want to get involved. Once involved, come through on assignments and tasks. Give 100% effort and enthusiasm.”

Habit 5: Focus on Your Customers

The SYCL mentors recommend that laboratorians remain “customer-centered,” never forgetting that aiding clinicians and helping patients is the ultimate goal. A clinical chemist should maintain a good rapport with clinicians and stay focused on patient welfare.

Susan A. Evans, PhD
“The product you develop might be used to help diagnose a friend, parent, or child. I’ve always kept that in mind. Stay close to the customer and understand their needs.”

Jocelyn M. Hicks, PhD
“I set myself the goal of understanding why tests were ordered by clinicians. I went on work rounds with the residents for several days per week for many years. I also attended Grand Rounds and Professorial Rounds every week.”

Jack H. Ladenson, PhD
“The everyday excitements vary, but there is a special feeling about resolving…a patient-specific problem that makes you feel that at that moment, your existence was of help for the health of a usually unknown individual.”

Thomas P. Moyer, PhD
“My greatest pleasures come from conversations with clinicians when I can reveal the strengths of the tests we offer to help them make an accurate diagnosis. If you want to add value to the practice of medicine, you have to be available to the clinicians when they need you.”

Greg Miller, PhD
“It is important to remember that laboratory medicine is a pragmatic discipline.  Your goal should be to make yourself useful to the organization for which you are employed. You must also be a resource to the physicians who use laboratory information and make it easy for them to get and use results.”

D. Robert Dufour, MD
“I have been involved in making rounds on the wards with our residents and directly interacting with physicians where they work. The most rewarding moments of my career come when I help the physicians caring for a patient make the correct diagnosis.”

Habit 6: Remain Balanced and Flexible

In order to perform at one’s peak and avoid burnout, a laboratorian should seek a good balance between work and family commitments. The SYCL mentors stress that flexibility is crucial to dealing with conflicting demands on the job and duties at home.

James O. Westgard, PhD
“Balancing professional and family needs and responsibilities is important. People have to figure out what is meaningful and what is frustrating and achieve a balance that provides personal satisfaction. That is tough to do early in one’s career because there are external yardsticks that may be more important than the internal ones.”

Mitchell G. Scott, PhD
“Identifying what you like best to do and deciding what percentage of time you will wear each of the three hats we have—research, teaching, clinical practice— is always a challenge. Take your job seriously, but not yourself!”

Thomas P. Moyer, PhD
“Maintaining a good work-life balance in the laboratory medicine profession is difficult. Participating in family activities was an important part of my life. I made a concerted effort to attend school events, sporting events, and include my family in my travels.”

Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD
“I would advise the young members of our profession not to become robots or workaholics, but rather, hard-working individuals who can develop a sophisticated time-sharing program that will allow them to work hard and, at the same time, enjoy the other aspects of life.”

D. Robert Dufour, MD
“I think it is important to put limits on your work time. It is very easy (and I did it) to get so committed to your job that your family and outside activities may take a back seat. As I have become more mature in my job, I have learned two important skills: delegating to others and learning to say ‘no’.”

Fred S. Apple, PhD
“Determine what you enjoy or like to do at work, what you do best at work, and go after it. And leave things behind when you go home.”

Habit 7: Persevere

The SYCL mentors generally agree that a laboratorian should focus on career-building from the beginning, setting goals and persevering until they are achieved. More than one mentor suggested that one should never take “no” for an answer the first time.

Larry Kricka, DPhil
“In building a career, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s advice is as true today as it was when he said ‘Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

Stephen Kahn, PhD
“Be willing to give up some personal time for career development. It will pay off and provide satisfaction in giving back to your profession as your career matures.”

Mary Burritt, PhD
“If you make a commitment to do something, follow through and do it! It may seem that you are losing some of your own time, but you will be rewarded a thousand-fold for your efforts.”

Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD
“The recipe for success in any profession and the cornerstone of a successful professional career is not so much the I.Q. but rather, dedication, hard work, organization and passion. I truly believe that a successful career must start with very hard work and sacrifices.”

Ann Gronowski, PhD
“What goals an individual should set depends entirely on the individual and what they want out of job, family, life. My advice is to look carefully at what you want and set a 6 month goal, 1 year goal, 5 year goal, and career goal. Frequently re-assess these goals and make sure you are on target.”

Elizabeth Rohlfs, PhD
“When opportunities present themselves, no matter how small, take them. Waiting for the perfect opportunity that offers a clear path is often a mistake; take some chances.”

Complete interviews with every laboratorian featured in the SYCL Mentor of the Month series can be found on the AACC Web site.

Learning from Clinical Chemistry Leaders

These 21 clinical chemists have contributed much to the field of laboratory medicine and to health care. A look at their collective experiences reveals some common elements that have led to their success in the lab and in life.


Fred S. Apple, PhD

Professor of Laboratory Medicine, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Minneapolis

Medical Director of Clinical Laboratories and the Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratories at Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minn.


David E. Bruns, MD

Professor of Pathology, Director of Clinical Chemistry, and Associate Director of Molecular Diagnostics at University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Editor of Clinical Chemistry


Mary Burritt, PhD
(recently retired)

Professor of Laboratory Medicine, Medical Co-Director Central Clinical Laboratory, and Director of the Metals Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.


Robert H. Christenson, PhD

Professor of Pathology and Professor of Medical and Research Technology; Director of the Clinical Chemistry, Toxicology, and Rapid Response Laboratories; and Director of Point-of-Care Services at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Medical Center, Baltimore


Eleftherios P. Diamandis, MD, PhD

Head, Section of Clinical Biochemistry, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario

Biochemist-in-Chief at the Department of Clinical Biochemistry, University Health Network and Toronto Medical Laboratories

Professor and Head, Division of Clinical Biochemistry, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto


D. Robert Dufour, MD

Consultant Pathologist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington D.C.

Member of the Veterans Affairs National Hepatitis C Technical Advisory Group


Susan A. Evans, PhD

Vice President/General Manager at Agencourt Bioscience Corp., Beverly, Mass.


Ann Gronowski, PhD

Associate Professor, Departments of Pathology & Immunology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.

Associate Medical Director of Clinical Chemistry, Immunology, and Serology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, Mo.


Jocelyn M. Hicks, PhD

President of JMBH Associates, a health management consulting company, in Washington, DC.


Stephen Kahn, PhD

Professor of Pathology, Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy; Vice Chair, Laboratory Medicine; Associate Director, Clinical Laboratories; and Director of Core Laboratory Operations, Toxicology and Near Patient Testing at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.


Jack A. Maggiore, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer and President, BIOSAFE Medical Technologies, Inc., Chicago, Ill.


Larry Kricka, DPhil

Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Director of the General Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia


Jack H. Ladenson, PhD

Oree M. Carroll and Lillian B. Ladenson Professor of Clinical Chemistry and Professor of Pathology and Immunology and Interim Director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.


Greg Miller, PhD

Professor of Pathology and Medical Center as Co-Director of Clinical Chemistry and Director of Pathology Information Systems at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.


Thomas P. Moyer, PhD

Vice Chair for Diagnostic Development, Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.


Elizabeth Rohlfs, PhD

Technical Director of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at Genzyme Genetics, Westborough, Mass.


Mitchell G. Scott, PhD

Professor of Pathology and Immunology in the Division of Laboratory Medicine, Department of Pathology and Immunology and Co-director of the Clinical Chemistry Postdoctoral Training Program at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.

Co-Medical Director of Clinical Chemistry at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, Mo.


James O. Westgard, PhD

Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Faculty Director of Quality Management Services for the Clinical Laboratories at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison, Wis.

President of Westgard QC, Inc., a business that provides tools, technology, and training for quality management


Frank Henry Wians, Jr., PhD

Professor of Pathology, Director of Clinical Chemistry, Director Clinical Chemistry Fellowship Program, and Associate Director of the Division of Clinical Pathology in the Department of Pathology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.


Emily S. Winn-Deen, PhD

Vice President for Strategic Planning and Business Development at Cepheid, Sunnyvale, Calif.


Carl T. Wittwer, PhD

Professor of Pathology at the University of Utah Medical School and Director of Flow Cytometry and the Advanced Technology Group at Associated Regional and University Pathologists (ARUP), Salt Lake City, Utah.