I never thought that in my almost-senior years I'd become a fisherwoman (?fisherperson). I'm not outdoorsy, I don't have many hobbies, and I'm actually rather boring — working and taking care of my family have always been plenty time-consuming. What I really like to do is curl up on the sofa with a good book, if I only had some spare time. But I always say that I married my husband because he pushes me outside my comfort zone and gets me to have fun by trying something new. So I said yes when he suggested a driving trip to go fishing in Idaho and we had a great time (note: remote fishing lodge = perfect pandemic vacation). Leaving my comfort zone paid off — not only did I have a great time, I out-fished my husband and got the biggest catch every day.

Going outside our comfort zone is something that everyone in our department has done a lot of lately, thanks to the pandemic. Pathologists and laboratorians, in general, like to stay within established policy and procedure since this is what ensures accuracy, quality, and efficiency in our daily work, and minimizes risk, including the possibility of life-threatening errors. When we do need to change, we like a well-thought out plan, befitting our careful and detail-oriented nature. Nonetheless, our amazing team pushed outside our usual comfort zone over the past six months and quickly adapted to urgent new needs — we rapidly implemented our own COVID-19 testing within two weeks of the FDA's emergency use authorization, we stretched to provide convalescent plasma as an investigational treatment despite the challenges of changing regulatory guidelines from the FDA, we are working on pooling to extend our precious allocation of COVID-19 testing reagents, and we have novel non-PCR tests in development to overcome the supply chain constraints. We have adopted new ways of teaching and delivering clinical service from a distance, thanks to telepathology— and happily, our trainees think it has improved education in many ways. Our researchers have adapted their laboratory operations to keep investigation going while making work safer for themselves and their teams.

Soon it will be time to stretch in new directions and leave our comfort zone again – over this academic year, our department will be developing a new strategic plan in parallel with the creation of a new UCD Health strategic plan – in fact, our department will be the first to work with Chief Strategy Officer Ron Amodeo and his team to pilot the development of departmental strategic operating plans that are intended to align with and support the goals of the larger health system plan. This is our chance to vision a new future for all the missions within academic pathology and become the example of what the future can hold right here. Through this plan, I'm looking forward to creating a new normal for ourselves and for our discipline by integrating our many creative solutions from the recent COVID-19 crisis and taking these to an even higher level.

An especially exciting component of our strategic planning process will be creating a plan for the pathology arm of the new Center for Diagnostic Innovation (CDxI). CDxI is all about “better tests for better health”. Dean Brashear just approved CDxI, but it has been long in the making; former Radiology Chair Ray Dougherty and I first brainstormed this center about two years ago. CDxI brings together our many unique creative programs related to diagnostic medicine under one umbrella so that we can become even more visible and attract more partners for innovation from inside and outside UCD. A new clinical investigational lab within CDxI will support pathology clinical trials and bridge the translational gap between discovery and clinical application of new tests. Artificial intelligence/machine learning is also an important thematic area within CDxI and we are already attracting a lot of interest from many external organizations who are want to work with us. Our great track record in diagnostic innovation both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic truly shines, so I'm excited about seeing CDxI grow and involve other UCD departments. I'm greatly looking forward to working with the new Chair of Radiology, Elizabeth Morris, who will develop the Radiology arm of CDxI with her faculty – I'm sure there will be many areas in which we overlap and collaboratively develop programs, including using AI/ML. Stay tuned for more on CDxI.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown our willingness and resilience in leaving our comfort zone and reflects our ability to keep learning which will serve us well going forward. Universities are all about discovery and cultivating a growth mindset and this is what makes an academic department of pathology and lab medicine great. Like fishing, planning for growth in our department will not necessarily be an easy process – it will require patience, resilience, and the willingness to struggle to reel in the big catch. I'm so proud that our department has met the struggle face-on during COVID-19 and achieved the extraordinary. I know I can count on everyone on our team to use their experience and growth mindset to develop our new departmental strategic plan and bring our new Center for Diagnostic Innovation to life – we have lots to look forward to!