Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month: A Conversation With CLSI President Victor Waddell, PhD, MS
We’re celebrating Public Health Laboratory Awareness this September. To find out more about why public health laboratories are so important to all our lives, we spoke with Victor Waddell, PhD, MS, CLSI’s Board President, and Bureau Chief of the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory.
What do you want the public to know about the importance of public health laboratories?
Public health labs don't always do a great job telling the public what they do. Because we are so consumed with the important testing and surveillance work we do, we forget to tell others outside of our network. It’s important for the public to know the range of testing conducted at public health labs, from important life-saving newborn screening that tests newborns for more than 33 rare and serious conditions, through testing for tuberculosis, detection of foodborne disease outbreaks, screening for opioids, and looking for environmental contaminants—and these are just a few of the many, many tests a public health lab conducts.
I have taken many members of the public on a tour through our lab, and they are always amazed at the work we do. We often hear, "We knew some lab performed this type of testing, but we didn't know it was the Public Health Laboratory.” We are about to release a virtual lab tour highlighting the important testing performed here at the Arizona State Public Health Lab. Check our website for updates on this at: https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/state-laboratory/index.php.
What accomplishment is your laboratory particularly proud of?
I am extremely proud of the staff here at the Arizona State Public Health Lab.
The lab team really stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting three shifts a day, seven days a week to keep up with the testing demand. We also formed new groups to store and distribute antivirals, vaccines, other therapeutics, and to distribute test kits. Everyone came together to help. It was amazing. They had to keep this up for several years.
Also, during the pandemic, the staff managed to keep up with routine testing to ensure we supported the needs of our customers. All sections of the lab have brought on new testing for opioids over the past few years, enhancing our capacity for next generation sequencing and integrating many automated testing platforms to help improve sample throughput.
The lab also supported many additional testing and surveillance requirements as part of the preparations for the last Super Bowl that was held here in Arizona. Staff also managed to work around the flood we had here at the lab during this time.
How do you use CLSI standards and learning programs in your lab?
CLSI is a great resource for all staff here at our lab. The webinars are really fantastic and help our lab testing staff and managers stay current with the testing advances as they hear from the world experts. The standards developed by the CLSI experts are critically important to laboratories; they allow us to be standardized across our labs and to learn the latest test methods. Staff from our lab participate in the CLSI Document Development Committees and they are very excited to be part of the groups that develop these important standards. Indeed, I know of many staff this year who have responded to the CLSI calls for volunteers, as they really want to participate in the amazing CLSI process!