Speakers' Bureau Directory: Couturier

Marc Couturier
Degree: PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Employer: University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah  84108


Primary Employer: Reference Laboratory; Other N/A
Scientific Specialty: Clinical microbiology or immunology; Other N/A
Job Title: Assistant professor of Pathology/Medical Director
Years in position: 2
Presentation Type: N/A
Video Call Type:N/A
Day to day responsibilities:
I current serve as primary medical director for several large infectious disease diagnostic laboratories at one of the nation’s largest reference laboratories; ARUP Laboratories. My daily activities vary greatly from day-to-day, commonly reflective of patient-to-patient differences. For instance, I am consulted daily by physicians to discuss laboratory test results and how they may be interpreted in a specific clinical context. In many cases I recommend adjunct testing, repeat testing, or discuss alternative diagnoses. The most electric conversations are those that center around incorrect or clinically inconsistent test results. Often the discussions are academically stimulating, but rarely amount to an ultimate resolution. Enigmatic clinical presentations are simply the nature of my discipline.
I also oversee the day-today quality of the laboratory through data review, problem resolution meetings within the laboratory, and assay validation. I am regularly consulted by my lab itself in regards to issues of specimen acceptability and appropriateness, as well as result quality. My staff if excellent, and can make many technical judgment calls on their own accord, however my ultimate clinical knowledge in addition to technical knowledge allows me to serve a higher level of directorship for the laboratory.
In my position I also get to interact with medical residents and fellows on a regular basis for teaching purposes. This is separated out in both informal laboratory plate rounds as well as structured didactic teaching sessions. The residents and fellows also consult with me on issues related to when they are on-call.
The common theme to my job is consultation and peer education. This is an invaluable aspect of my job that provides me with constant variation in my day-to-day experience.

What do you love about your job?
The aspects of my job that I love the most are: conducting clinical research projects without the need for large grant funded resources, constant peer-level education, and having no two workdays be the same.
Considering the first point, I am able to apply for large grants if I choose, but they do not define my success and survival. I find myself publishing many articles in the absence of large grants. This also allows me to conduct smaller focused studies in shorter time periods and not become focused on one specific pathogen for 5-10 years.
The second point is explained in the previous discussion of my day-to-day work. I love educating and consulting with my peers and advanced level trainees in an unstructured setting.
The third point touches on the first point. My days are so variable that I can never expect redundancy in my work week, much less work month. I find the variation and multidisciplinary knowledge of my field to be extremely enriching.

Degrees, experience, license(s), and skills required for position:
To serve as a medical director in a diagnostic microbiology laboratory as a non-MD, a Ph.D. in medical microbiology is paramount. Once this is obtained, certification with the American Board of Medical Microbiology is nearly a universal requisite. This can be obtained best by training in a CPEP approved Clinical Microbiology fellowship program. I found that the Ph.D. research conducted in most microbiology departments is very far removed from clinical microbiology, so gaining experience in a clinical lab is paramount in order to be competitive for CPEP training programs. Experience can best be achieved by incorporating clinical aspects into the Ph.D. research project if possible, attending plate rounds in the clinical lab as a guest, attending infectious disease case presentations in order to learn the lingo and immerse yourself in the culture, and (if possible) to secure a short post-doctoral research fellowship in a clinical laboratory to gain more practical experience.

Tips/Advice for how to secure a job in microbiology upon graduation:
In terms of clinical microbiology, there are several important ways to be successful and gain a quality job in the field:
1. Don’t wait too long to start paving the way for clinical microbiology. Many CPEP programs require 12-18 months lead time for applicants to be accepted. Knowing what you want half-way through your Ph.D. is very helpful in order to strategize and end-date for your Ph.D. research and a start to your new career focus.
2. Complete a CPEP fellowship and pass the ABMM exam to become board certified: Certify Your Worth. The exam is not easy, so you should advertise your qualification whenever professionally appropriate and be proud of it.
3. Get your name out! While publications are a great way to get name recognition, often that will only take you so far. Volunteer for committees, introduce yourself to colleagues at meetings, give local seminars at regional meetings, establish multicenter collaborations, and be a good colleague. The clinical research community is very collaborative and our immediate goals are improved patient care, rather than competing with other laboratories that may share your interests. Honesty, openness, and communication go a long way in this field.