- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I am a long time member of the AACC, CSCC, NACB and CACB, joining the AACC and CSCC at the beginning of my career in the mid 1980’s…..there was never a question about joining, it was a “given” that all of the Clinical Biochemists were members of these organizations.
My entrance into a career in Clinical Biochemistry was very much an “accident of history” and “back door” event. Near the end of my graduate studies, I gave a presentation at a conference on my thesis project: mercury toxicology. Dr. Tom Hindmarsh who was the Biochemistry Division Head at the Ottawa Civic Hospital at the time approached me and asked if I had considered Clinical Biochemistry as a career.
I had no idea what Clinical Biochemistry was, but an offer of a permanent job and an opportunity to work in health care was very appealing to a young 20 something year old.
After a couple of years of “on the job training”, I successfully completed the Canadian examination and certification process to achieve Fellowship status with both the CACB and the NACB.
Over the ensuing 28 years I have served extensively at the Provincial and National levels on the Executive Committees of our professional societies, ultimately serving as President of the Ontario Society of Clinical Chemists (OSCC) from 1997 to 1999 and President of the Canadian Society of Clinical Chemistry from 2005 to 2007.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
Both the OSCC and CSCC have Councilor positions in their Society governance structures. These function as “entry level” positions for individuals who want to participate in and contribute to the day to day functioning of the organization. They are a great opportunity to learn how the organization operates, network with colleagues from across the province or country and learn from more seasoned and experienced Biochemists.
Early in my career I was invited to serve as a Councilor for the OSCC. It was a pivotal event which subsequently lead to positions of increasing responsibilities and opportunities to help shape our profession.
The success and strength of our professional organizations relies foremost on the active participation of its membership. There are endless opportunities for young Biochemists to get involved by volunteering. If you aren’t sure where to start, next time you are at one of the Annual Meetings seek out a President or Past President or any current or previous member of a national, regional or local committee. We will be delighted to help you get involved!
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
My career path at The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine is “clinician administrator”. This designation recognizes the importance of, and rewards (through academic rank promotion) administrative contributions and encourages leadership excellence amongst medical/scientific staff.
My journey into administration began in the 1990’s when I was given opportunities to lead small projects and progressively more complex initiatives. In 1998 The Ottawa Hospital was created through a Ministry of Health and Long Term Care directed merger of the Ottawa Civic Hospital, Ottawa General Hospital, Riverside Hospital and Salvation Army Grace Hospital. I was appointed the first Biochemistry Division Head for the new merged organization and have served in that position for 14 years.
Like many career medical/scientific administrators, administration was not an area I consciously sought out. Up until a decade or so ago, choosing administration was viewed as a “career killer” and was to a certain extent a right of passage where the most senior member of a group usually assumed the administrative leadership position. In hospitals clinical and administration staff functioned in “silos”, often with a “we” vs “them” attitude. However the culture of health care and hospitals in particular has changed dramatically and there is now recognition that the most successful organizations are those where the medical/scientific staff and “administration” work together in partnership in a matrix model. Special programs have been implemented to develop leadership skills in medical/scientific staff in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and a recognition that the best clinical administrators are often not the individuals whose career path focus is grant driven research or education.
In addition to my administrative focus, I keep my hand in clinical research through collaborative activities with my colleagues in Obstetrics & Gynecology and Neonatology.
Finally one of my other major roles is the medical/scientific director for the Laboratory Information System (LIS). I realized early in my career that the LIS is the backbone of laboratory operations and that these systems should support laboratory services not dictate our operations. Overseeing the quality and integrity of the laboratory information system in an era where there is great demand to download laboratory results to the electronic health record and other clinical systems is at times both fascinating and frustrating. Educating our information systems colleagues that laboratory results are not “just an HL7 message” is sometimes a full time job.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I believe I have brought credibility to the “clinician administrator” role in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. I hope I have demonstrated to young Biochemists the importance of building collaborative and mutually respectful relationship with hospital administrators.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career so far?
Having the privilege of serving as the CSCC President during the Society’s 50th Anniversary year was one of the most rewarding events of my professional career.
The confidence and responsibility bestowed on me by Senior Management to guide the Division of Biochemistry through The Ottawa Hospital merger profoundly influenced my career and evolved into one of the most challenging initiatives I have ever lead.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
Embrace the philosophy of “work hard and play hard”! Spend time with your family…. the time between your child’s first day of kindergarten and the day you pack them off to University will be the shortest 14 years of your life. I often counsel young biochemists who have multiple job opportunities and are having difficulty deciding which offer to accept to remember that they are selecting the people they will spend more waking hours with each week than they do with their own family.
My work/life balance centers around physical activity…..in the summer I play golf three times a week and hockey twice a week and in the winter, hockey three times a week with some downhill and cross country skiing….. great stress relievers.
- If you were to start your career again, what if anything, would you do differently?
Wouldn’t change a thing! I have enjoyed (almost every moment of) my career and have been blessed by being in the right place at the right time.
- What are your predictions for laboratory practice in Canada over the next ten years?
Laboratory Medicine in Canada has been under siege for the last 15 years pushing towards automation and workstation consolidation on the technology side and regionalization on the governance and service delivery side. I believe these activities are nearing their peak and the rate of change in these areas will slow with perhaps some repackaging of health care governance depending on which political party is in power.
My prediction on the next big trend in laboratory medicine will be the shift to more applied laboratory informatics. While laboratory medicine is often acknowledged as source of the majority of data in the electronic health record, our ability to “mine” the laboratory information systems has been limited by the functionality of the legacy systems. The “next generation” of LIS which are now mainstream in our laboratories, coupled with integration engines and data repositories have opened the door to access this wealth of information. A new generation of Biochemists is emerging, individuals with data analysis expertise who can leverage their clinical biochemistry knowledge to explore everything from laboratory utilization to quality management metrics.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
The increasing complexity of laboratory medicine is daunting even to the most experienced Biochemist however this complexity creates a vast array of opportunities.
I try to guide the young members of my Division to have a broad understanding of Clinical Biochemistry to meet our mandate to provide state of the art Biochemistry services to a regional health care system. Building this foundational knowledge is essential regardless of the career path you take.
While the complexity of laboratory medicine may present one challenge to young Biochemists, perhaps the bigger challenge is avoiding the risk of over committing and over extending.
In an academic environment such as ours, there are almost endless opportunities to collaborate with clinicians or dive into an investigation of an unusual or unexpected result. I encourage young Biochemists to find one or two areas of interest and focus, preferably centered around a clinical area where they can build relationships.
Learn to say “no thanks” when faces with multiple offers of collaboration and don’t spread yourself too thin!
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Professional goals are a personal choice and can be big or small. Some individuals are driven to achieve a specific academic rank or have personal publication targets while others measure their own success through remuneration expectations.
Find an approach that works for you whether it is setting the big “G” long term “career” goal or the small “g” year by year strategy.
- What are the most important leadership skills you think young scientists should develop?
Five of my favorites are:
- Learn to chair an effective meeting
- Make decisions based on evidence/data that you have seen for yourself, not what someone tells you to be the facts and definitely never based on emotion
- Effective time management skills including learning to prioritize and delegate
- Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, at a minimum make sure they know "stuff" you don’t!
- What is your favourite activity outside of work?
Recreational sport activity preferably coupled with travel (working my way to play golf on every continent)
- Who are your role models or mentors?
Rather than singling out specific individuals I would like to borrow from the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child”….. I would describe myself as a Biochemist raised and mentored by the Health Care system.
I have tried to model myself by emulating the best attributes of the many excellent leaders at all levels in the health care system that I have had the pleasure to work with. However have learned just as much by observing (and avoiding) some really bad leadership styles.
- Can you provide an interview tip for job seekers?
Ask questions at the interview! You should be just as interested in finding out about us as we are about you. I always worry about a candidate who at the end of an hour and half committee interview when invited to ask the panel questions doesn’t have any. Take the time to ask how the team operates, how roles and responsibilities are defined, is there a strategic plan for the next year, are previous year’s strategic plans available for review, what are the current major challenges etc etc.
- How has the practice of Clinical Biochemistry changed during your career?
The advances in technology in diagnostics has been exponential driving almost every laboratory medicine discipline to a sub-sub specialist model. When I first started in Clinical Biochemist, everyone functioned as a “generalist”, we could all cover the clinical and analytical components of the everything from acid/base balance to endocrinology. Today’s academic health science environment is so complex that we require sub-specialists within the realm of Clinical Biochemistry.
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