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2023 Leadership Excellence Awards Winner Spotlight: Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, MPH, MLS (ASCP)

Winner of the 2023 Influential Impact Award, Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, discusses her volunteer work and what makes a good leader

by Lab Manager
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Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, MPH, MLS (ASCP) is the executive directory of pathology and laboratory services at University Health in south Texas. Whitehead was nominated by her peers for the 2023 Leadership Excellence Awards and received recognition as the recipient of the Influential Impact Award.

Whitehead told Lab Manager about her volunteer work, what qualities leaders should have, and her podcast, "eLABorate Topics."

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Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, MPH, MLS (ASCP)
Credit: Stephanie Whitehead

Q: Can you briefly discuss your background and what you do in your current role?

A: I started my laboratory journey as a blood bank medical laboratory scientist. Today, I am the executive director of pathology and laboratory services at a large health system in South Texas (University Health), and the podcast co-host of a weekly show, which features talks related to the laboratory and leadership to help listeners succeed in their professional lives: “eLABorate Topics”. 

Outside of this work, I am a passionate volunteer for many organizations. I currently serve as a member of the board of directors for the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as the chair elect of the Council of Laboratory Professionals (CLP) and a professional mentor through the ASCP and American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) mentorship programs. 

I frequently present at laboratory national and state conferences, such as the ASCLS ELMC2 conference, to address strategies on improving the laboratory profession. I also play an active role in my local community through volunteer work with the Junior League of San Antonio, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Girl Scouts of America.

Q: What was your reaction to winning this award, and what does it mean to you to win?

A: Enthusiasm and a deep feeling of honor and appreciation for the consideration. This accolade encourages me to work even harder for the field of laboratory medicine.  

Q: What do you value the most about Lab Manager’s offerings/content?

A: Helping leaders stay in tune with the latest trends and developments in the laboratory community. 

Q: What resources or individuals did you learn your leadership and management skills from?

A: I once heard some advice, “Take some time to access your weaknesses and strengths. Then, work to turn your weaknesses into your strengths.” I always approached professional growth from the standpoint of enhancing the areas of my leadership that I felt were personal weaknesses. For instance, as an introvert (by definition), early in my career I struggled with networking and building professional relationships. So, I found resources to help with that particular weakness and would purposely put myself in situations to “test” my skills. I also have leaned on resources provided by my professional organizations such as the Lab Management University (LMU) courses offered through ASCP. 

Q: In your opinion and experience, what is the most important quality or trait a good leader needs to have?

A: Empathy, communication, and resiliency.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

A: Outside of this work, I’m a passionate and active leader for several professional organizations. I currently serves on the board of directors for the ASCP, and I volunteer with the ASCLS. In 2022, I was honored as a 2022 ASCP 40 Under 40 and ASCLS Voices Under 40 Laboratory Professional.   

In addition to her career in laboratory medicine, I enjoy volunteering in my community through Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Girl Scouts of America.  

Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about good leadership and management?

A: That the person that has worked in your lab the longest will automatically make a good candidate for a leadership role. Often times, lab leaders promote or hire based off years of experience or who’s “next in line,” rather than looking for the right fit for a job. Another misconception is that trust and respect are automatic based on your title—this is not true. Trust and respect are earned through your authenticity as a leader. 

Q: What’s the best piece of management and/or leadership advice you can share with our readers?

A: (1) Network, network, and network. This helps with professional growth, career opportunities, and provides professional support.

(2) Consider being a mentor to another emerging professional. As the landscape of medicine continues to transform from “disease-care” to healthcare, the laboratory medicine profession is shedding its reputation of being “behind the scenes” and transforming into a position that is patient-facing alongside the medical team. The importance of the laboratory perspective in battling the COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of how including laboratory medicine in every healthcare conversation is pivotal to our overall success. The laboratory is often the first to identify an issue with a patient through critical values and other test results. As new generations of point of care monitoring devices continue to emerge, the laboratory medicine team will be at the forefront of this evolution assisting the industry in testing instruments, implementing new technology, and advising on the use of these devices.  However, in order to reach these goals, we must have confident, competent, and capable leaders in laboratory medicine to lead and sustain these changes in healthcare.

(3) Get involved and volunteer in a professional organization

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years in your role? 

A: I want to continue to motivate and inspire current and future leaders within the field to push past their limits and exceed their goals through my efforts in mentoring and helping professionals with our podcast. Being awarded with this honor has not only validated years of hard work, but it is motivation to continue to work harder and strive to support the next generation of talented laboratory leaders  through education, outreach, and mentorship.