Volume 37 Number 5 | October 2023

Pat Tille, PhD, MLS(ASCP), AHI(AMT), FACSc, ASCLS President-Elect

Patricia TilleAs I embark on the upcoming year as the ASCLS president-elect, I thought I would reflect on my professional career and why taking the next step can be an opportunity for anyone. For those in ASCLS who know me, becoming the ASCLS president was not on my list of things to do. But in all honesty, my career path was never planned. For those who do not know me, let me give you a brief synopsis.

When I graduated from high school, I was unsure of my career path, as many young adults are. My family was not able to provide the funding for me to attend college at that time. One morning in April, I woke up and my car had been vandalized. We called the local authorities, and Officer Baumgarten, known as “Boomer,” as I would find out, came to take the report. He asked me what my future plans were and suggested I look into applying to the Sioux Falls Police Department (SFPD) as a cadette. Cadettes went through all the same testing and hiring processes as full officers but were not 21 years old at the time of hire, and therefore unable to carry a firearm or legally serve as a full officer. Well, I took his advice, and by the next spring, I was in training for the SFPD. As a young, impressionable 19-year-old, I spent two years working in the 911 Emergency Communication Center learning all the codes for crimes and radio codes for communication. They are different.

When I turned 21, I attended the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) School in Pierre, South Dakota. At the time, I was five months pregnant with our second child. If you think the male officers were nervous about having female officers, it was interesting to watch them panic when I did 50 sit-ups in the physical agility classes we had daily, as well as tried to fit on a gun belt for target practice, or a seat belt for emergency vehicle operation training. As the story goes, I successfully completed my training at the police academy and went on to serve in the SFPD for approximately eight years, primarily in the Patrol Division and Detective Bureaus. After having two children, it was time to move on to a more “traditional” female career. That was the trend at the time.

As a mother of two—and later four—attending college was more feasible as I was able to secure federal student loans. And little did I know, I would still be paying on those today, three decades later! I began as a business major with the intent to go to law school, as a Sioux Falls law firm offered to pay for my schooling once I completed my bachelor’s degree. There were not too many police officers that become lawyers, and definitely not female officers. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the business classes bored me, although I was getting straight As. I took a biology course, fell in love with science, and continued my path, not knowing where it may lead me. During the completion of that degree, one of our children became hospitalized at Sioux Valley Hospital, now Sanford, and I was studying botany one day in her room. A phlebotomist or a technologist (I have no idea which) came in and took a blood sample from our daughter. They asked me what I was going to do with my biology degree, and of course, I had no idea. They suggested I talk to the medical laboratory science (MLS) program director at the hospital, as it was a good option for a career. You know what happened after that!

“I can assure you I would not have had the opportunities or the successes along the way without the mentorship, friends, and colleagues I have met in ASCLS.”

As the only MLS hired from my class after completion at Sanford, I was placed on rotating floating shifts. In other words, I covered everyone else’s vacation as a generalist. That was more than difficult hopping from one shift to another with a day or two on each and trying to raise four children. IMPOSSIBLE you might say! I applied to be a research associate at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, in order to have a day-shift position that would allow me more family time and better hours. One of the faculty called me up one day and said, “You do not want to work for us; you want to come to graduate school for your PhD.” I went to visit the school, and sure enough, another door had opened, and I completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Microbial Genetics, which is listed as Biomedical Health Science on my degree. My background is in human and microbial genetics, biochemistry, proteins and enzymes, and infectious disease diagnosis. A perfect match for a laboratory professional I might add!

So how did I end up in academics, you may ask. While I was finishing my dissertation, a small college in Yankton, Mount Marty College (MMC), now Mount Marty University, needed a microbiology instructor for a summer class. My graduate committee gave me permission to teach for the summer, and I was soon offered a full-time faculty position. I accepted and completed my research and dissertation while teaching full time. I eventually went on to have opportunities open up to teach at my alma mater, the University of Sioux Falls, and then to create a National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)-accredited program at South Dakota State University (SDSU). I retired early from SDSU, when an opportunity to create a graduate program at the University of Cincinnati was offered to me.

What is missing from this story? How did I end up as the ASCLS president-elect? I had some of the greatest mentors in the ASCLS-South Dakota constituent society, who encouraged me to become involved as a student. Those mentors, Lezlee Koch, Pam Kieffer, and Mona Gleysteen, were always encouraging me and supporting me along the way. That path began as the ASCLS-SD Student Forum representative, where I went on to be the Region V student representative; the ASCLS-SD president three times; the Region V director on the ASCLS Board of Directors; and a list of committees from state to regional to national that are too numerous to include here. Along the way I managed to pick up the prestigious positions as author and editor of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology Textbook, the editor in chief of the International Journal of Biomedical Laboratory Science, and the chair of the Microbiology Advisory Committee for the International Federation of Biomedical Laboratory Science. I have presented many talks, published numerous papers, and authored chapters in three different additional textbooks.

As it is clear, or maybe not, my professional career was not mapped out nicely with plans for becoming a laboratory scientist, nor did I plan on ASCLS and the opportunities it would provide. What I can share with you is every opportunity that I have had in my career began with one person believing in me. If you remember how my story began, it only took “Boomer” to set me on a path that would begin my journey. That was followed by many individuals along the way during my education and my beginnings in ASCLS. I can assure you I would not have had the opportunities or the successes along the way without the mentorship, friends, and colleagues I have met in ASCLS. They remain my strongest asset and my greatest gift!

My last word of advice: If you are a new or seasoned laboratory professional on your own journey, remember we all start our path as individuals. But we can travel on a journey with many others who are there to support us, encourage us, and help us achieve remarkable things. I hope you will join me this year, as I embark on this journey as the ASCLS president-elect, and I hope you continue to seek out opportunities in your career and in our professional organization. Take the next steps, because you never know where it may lead you!

Pat Tille is the Graduate Program Director and Professor at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio.