Do you remember 2010? Might be hard to think back that far, but I can tell you exactly what I was doing – I was just appointed the chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine right here at UC Davis Health. I'm now starting my 10th year as department chair.

  • A decade is a long time – and so much of what we take for granted today was new and different back then. Here's what was happening in the world in 2010:
  • A failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square ushered in the current era of terrorism. Taliban-trained terrorist, Faisal Shahzad, was captured and sentenced to life in prison. He warned of future attacks, presaging the 9/11 attack the next year.
  • The IPad was introduced, creating another device we can't live without.
  • Lady Gaga wore a dress made of meat to the Video Music Awards (ok, maybe that hasn't become mainstream….)
  • McDonalds and Starbucks started offering free WiFi in their locations nationwide.
  • Kodak discontinued production of their famed Kodachrome film. (Does anyone besides me remember using this film for photomicrographs and slide presentations??)
  • In medicine:
    • Robert Edwards PhD received the Nobel Prize for developing in-vitro fertilization, now a common reproductive technology which has led to the birth of 4+ million people.
    • Cancer screening practices were challenged, creating controversies:
      • Both the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging advised against routine mammography for women under 50 years, contrary to recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force.
      • The American Cancer Society advised against routine screening for prostate cancer, and instead recommended that healthy asymptomatic men talk with their doctors to make an informed decision about whether to be screened or not.
    • And my personal favorite as a chocoholic: Higher chocolate consumption was found to be associated with a lower risk for stroke and stroke-related mortality.

Even if you feel time has stood still, our department has not. Here are just a few changes over the past ten years that demonstrate how we have changed and become better:

  • Our ranking for NIH research funding has gone up 20 places from #61 in 2010 to #43 in 2018. I anticipate that our rank will rise into the 30s for 2019, thanks to new grants, including Brittany Dugger's new $3.8M NIH award. And the year isn't over yet – perhaps new grants yet to come?
  • Our Clinical Research Oversight Committee (CROC) was launched in 2016, and has created an effective front door to facilitate clinical research in the clinical lab. As of December 2018, CROC reviewed 223 projects, and serves 108 principle investigators and 30 departments.
  • Our medical student pathology course now consistently ranks in the top 3 pre-clinical courses by students. Instructor of Record Kristin Olson led this change, and is now Associate Dean of Curriculum – it is an honor and an advantage to have a pathologist in high levels of leadership.
  • Last year, we re-launched our Informatics fellowship after a hiatus of 15+ years; it is now an ACGME-approved program which was accredited on the first try.
  • Training for lab professionals expanded in the past 5 years. In addition to our long-standing clinical lab scientists training program, we started a cytotechnologist training program in partnership with Univ. of Nebraska, and have award-winning graduates, like recent grad, Jaycie Dunshie who just received the national Geraldine Colby Zeiler Award. Training MLT students from Folsom Lake College is also new in the past 5 years.
  • To grow diversity in the biomedical workforce, we partnered with UCD's Prep Medico program 3 years ago and include their students in our Edmondson Summer Research Internship program.
  • Surgical pathology was re-organized to a subspecialty team model 7 years ago to meet the needs of modern practice. In the last 4 years, we added subspecialty expertise not previously present in our department: renal, genitourinary, and bone/soft tissue pathology. We've also added more pathologist assistants and finally replaced our antiquated LIS with the much improved Beaker system which was implemented amazingly easily.
  • We've developed a strong reputation in the hot area of artificial intelligence and machine learning, thanks to our talented faculty, meaningful projects, and strong publications.
  • Our efforts to establish a Center for Diagnostic Innovation is moving forward – external advisors visited recently, and they were highly enthusiastic about our ideas and work, and supportive of the center concept. Once we receive their reports, we will create a proposal to share with our health system leadership.

The past five years haven't been especially easy times – sometimes it has felt like two steps forward and one step back. We've had lots of leadership changes, including a new dean, an interim dean, and now a new dean again plus a new vice chancellor. We've also had three new lab directors in the past 5 years, and lots of retirements in the clinical lab with many positions waiting to be filled. Externally, research funding is still very competitive and there is competition for talent in all sectors – we continue to recruit on all levels in the laboratory, and into faculty positions, including our Stowell Chair for Experimental Pathology.

But as is often said, competition makes us all better. A recent article in Harvard Business Review ( offered lessons on competition from the successes at Netflix. I especially liked this advice: “If you aim to disrupt an industry, you must be willing to disrupt yourself…. you can't let what you know, all your past success, limit what you can imagine going forward.” This is the reason behind our Center for Diagnostic Innovation – disrupting the traditional practice and roles of pathology, pathologists, and laboratorians, through research, innovation, and application of new knowledge and tools so that we can be successful as the future changes.

My 10 year chair review begins this fall – a moment chairs often dread since it's a chance for folks to sling a few tomatoes. But it is also a moment that I look forward to since a few tomatoes can improve the department and me, and make us all more innovative, and more effective in meeting our missions.

I was at a birthday party last month, and the host rephrased a quote from Kierkegaard: “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood by looking backwards.” I think the same is true of leadership – I look forward to looking backward in my upcoming chair review, so that we can all live forward more successfully together.


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