- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I am a long-time member of the AACC. I joined when I was still in graduate school while getting my degree in Clinical Chemistry at Cleveland State University (CSU) and training at the Cleveland Clinic.
After graduate school, I was lucky enough to be in the AACC Ohio Valley Section at a time when great scientists and clinical chemistry pioneers like Dr. Larry Kaplan and Dr. Amadeo Pesce (of "Kaplan & Pesce, Clinical Chemistry" textbook fame), as well as Dr. Sam Meites (the father of pediatric Clinical Chemistry and AACC historian, author of Otto Folin's biography) were members. Associating with such giants of the field was a learning experience. Clinical Chemists from both hospital and independent laboratories co-mingled to exchange operational and scientific experiences at "mini national meetings" that the section held, complete with scientific presentations and clinical vendor exhibits.
At the national AACC level, I served on the board of the Management Sciences Division (MSD).
I have also been active in the Clinical Laboratory Management Association (CLMA), the Clinical Ligand Assay Society (CLAS), and the American Chemical Society (ACS).
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
Getting the courage to join these organizations was made easier when I discovered how much these groups had to offer in terms of educational programs. They offered programs that were not only directly related to my job duties at that time, but provided me with practical knowledge that I could immediately apply to my job. This, in turn, enabled me to be more successful at work and, eventually, further my career.
Attending these association meetings afforded me easier access to other scientists with similar job challenges to mine, leading me to be more confident about the decisions that I was making in my own lab.
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
My career in laboratory service has taken me into multiple aspects of the clinical laboratory:
After graduate school, I was responsible for running the routine chemistry discipline at a company. In this venue, I was working with some of the clinical laboratory industry's first large, multi-channel chemistry analyzers.
This led to the designing of computer interfaces to transfer data from these instruments to LIS computer systems and working with many IT programmers.
It was easy to realize that we needed to ensure the quality of the massive amounts of data coming from these analyzers, so my interests expanded to the work of Dr. Jim Westgard and his "Westgard Rules". These interests eventually led to one of my current job responsibilities as the National QC Director for LabCorp.
Quality Control then transitioned to Quality Assurance, when I reasoned that it wasn't enough to just "control" assays. We had to improve them, and the processes behind them, to be truly successful and provide the most reliable patient results to our physicians.
I spent a few years doing "technical sales" and visiting clients, listening to the "voice of the customer" - the true measure of a lab's quality performance.
Subsequently, I became interested in "operations" and what "systems" I could put into place that would deliver results in an efficient manner, with low error rates, and the highest quality.
My interests still involve Quality Improvement, encompassing all steps of the "path of specimen workflow", from sample acquisition to result delivery.
Currently, however, I am more focused on the highly specialized, esoteric "special chemistry" testing and making these rare and technically difficult tests perform with the quality characteristics of "routine" tests, i.e., robust, easily quality controlled, automated, and with on-line computer interfaces.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
Working in a national laboratory network has allowed me to contribute to the standardization of laboratory processes throughout this network. These efforts have lead to a global standardization of processes and equipment which has resulted in the comparability of patient results between geographic locations.
With standardization of processes, physician practice protocols can remain uniform between different geographical areas, since the patient data performed on a patient at one site is directly correlated with the results for that same patient performed at another site.
A major achievement for me has been the development of a National Quality Control (QC) system that I helped design and implement. Using common lots of QC material, the Interlab QC Comparison component of the system serves as a "report card" of the network's standardization and has resulted in a true "system" of "standardized" laboratories instead of just a "collection" of "associated" laboratories.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
Receiving my company's "President Achievement Award for Quality" for designing and implementing the National Quality Control (QC) system was my proudest moment.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
Work/life balance is important in so many ways. Without it, it is impossible to maintain good personal health and perform optimally on the job.
I recommend learning and developing personal time management skills. Setting specific goals in each of the work/life balance areas is part of this process. These areas for me include personal finance, family, physical, mental, and spiritual balance. Keeping a chart showing participation during the week in each of these areas is a technique that I use to maintain balance.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
Clearly, mass spectrometry will have a growing and long-term role in clinical chemistry in the future.
I expect that "workstation consolidation", i.e., the combining of multiple analytes onto a single instrument platform, will continue to be a driving force in the industry. These tests, while using similar methodologies, will involve multiple clinical disciplines. Thus, the clinical chemist of the future will need to learn to interpret the results from these analyzers across different disciplines.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
Young scientists will be asked to provide service coverage in more laboratory "disciplines" in the future. This will require a broader knowledge base in areas outside of the traditional "Clinical Chemistry, Toxicology, Immunoassay, Tumor Marker, etc." areas. Areas including Molecular Genetics, Serology, Coagulation, Flow Cytometry, Information Technology, Quality Systems, Compliance, Regulatory, Management Science, etc. will require expanded study and hard work.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Goal planning is the basis of all of life's success, in my opinion. Goals must be based on the individual's personal value system, vision for the future, and assessment of their personal capabilities. Therefore, generalization of specific goals is difficult. Certainly, gaining scientific knowledge, management techniques, time management skills, and work/life balance control are necessary goal components.
Written goals are also a must since, an often-quoted axiom is that, "It is almost impossible to achieve a goal that is not written down". The process of writing down short- and long-term goals creates a focus and a commitment that better ensures their achievement.
Using the technique of "Thinking with the end in mind" is a way to formulate goals using a visualization technique. Asking, "What will I be doing in, for example, 5 years, 10 years, etc.", is a way to visualize the goals that you want to set, while also setting target dates for their accomplishment.
Achieving goals requires hard work, self-confidence, time management, work/life balance, and a collaborative attitude that encourages cooperation with others along the way.
- What factor(s) influenced you to transition from a scientific director to a VP clinical operations position?
Developing the finest clinical lab test in the world seems to me to be a waste if it is not put into an actionable format, i.e., made "operational", where it can benefit the patient. My goal was to be part of the process that delivered good scientific methods to operational reality and ultimately lead to improved patient care.
- What do you think are key attributes to a successful laboratory quality program?
Successful quality programs always are ones that involve collaborations between people at all levels of the organization; groups that are centered on improving the lab processes for the benefit of the patient. "Quality Circles", made up of techs and management, foster new ideas, increased cooperation, participant "buy-in", and better solutions to quality problems in the long run.
Quality metrics are also an integral part of a successful quality program. "You can't fix what you can't (or don't) measure." The development of quality metrics to improve processes is important, but it must be remembered that quality programs are meant to improve things, not to just measure them.
- What is the most impactful occurrence that you have encountered in lab operations/QA?
The discontinuation of all flights on September 11, 2001 ("911").
- What type of leadership (skills) do you look for in your management team?
Leadership principles that I look for and try to develop in my management team include:
- This is the "1st step" to better science and management.
- Listening - to others (e.g., subordinates, co-workers, management).
- Listening is the "highest form of courtesy". One of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is: "Seek first to understand before being understood".
- Positive Attitude
- Only positive people accomplish anything worthwhile. One must be positive and not let negativity, from yourself or others, sap your energy.
- Managing (and success) is all about getting the desired results.
- Where you find competition within a work group, you won't find cooperation (or success).
- Good Manners
- Bad manners are never excused. If you are not a nice person, you shouldn't be managing people.
- How do you handle stress/pressure?
In a word, "Humor". Having a sense of humor in difficult situations relieves stress and puts the situation in a better perspective.
Also, while the "first responsibility of a leader is to lead" and to make a final decision in pressure situations, I tend to bring others from my management group in to discuss options and collaborate with me. Soliciting other's ideas and using their positive energies makes tough situations less stressful.
- What is your vision for how acquisitions, mergers and/or joint ventures amongst hospital systems and labs will reshape the existing market for clinical lab services?
Standardization is a key to efficiency and effective delivery of testing and provides that the patient will benefit from a common database of comparable laboratory results.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Often I am asked by young scientists, "What 'skill sets' should I develop?"
I advise that they learn to do the following: