Interview with Ann M. Gronowski, PhD

Ann M. Gronowski, PhD, is professor of Pathology & Immunology and Obstetrics & Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine, medical director of BJH Core Laboratory Services, and associate medical director of Clinical Chemistry, Serology and Immunology. She also serves as vice chair of faculty affairs and development in the Department of Pathology & Immunology. She was past president of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry, serves on the board of editors for the journal Clinical Chemistry, and has garnered the most prestigious awards in her field, including “AACC’s Outstanding Contributions Through Service to the Profession of Clinical Chemistry”, “AACC’s Outstanding Contributions through Education” and “AACC Academy’s Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Chemistry in a Selected Area of Research”. Dr. Gronowski co-founded The Women and Infants Health Specimen Consortium (WIHSC) in 2008 at the School of Medicine and has established herself as an authority in endocrinology and reproductive physiology, specializing in maternal-fetal medicine.

Caroline Franks: Tell me a little bit about how you chose your specialty.

Ann Gronowski: The fact that I ended up in clinical pathology was totally fate. My PhD was in endocrinology and reproductive physiology. I attended a FASEB meeting when I was looking for a post doc position and they had a job center with opportunities for brief interviews. Dr. Mitch Scott from Washington University sent me a letter, in advance, saying that he had seen my CV and wanted to interview me for their clinical chemistry fellowship program. I had never heard of clinical chemistry and actually threw the letter out! Fortunately, when I arrived at the meeting, Dr. Scott sent me another message and again said he was interested in interviewing me. This time, I thought to myself that I was already at the meeting and I might as well go to the interview. Thank goodness I did because it changed my whole career path. I guess the moral of my story is to keep your mind open to new things even if you haven’t heard of something.

Franks: Do you remember any big ‘first moments’ in your career?

Gronowski: The first scientific meeting I attended was the Endocrine Society in the late 1980s. My husband came with me because the meeting was in New Orleans. They had events for spouses to attend during the meeting and the event they had for the spouses at this meeting was a Merle Norman make up class. The make-up class illustrated just how male-dominated the scientific field was at that time. Fortunately, a few years ago, I attended an American Society of Microbiology meeting in Boston and brought my 17-year-old son. I was delighted because he was able to hang out with the male spouses of another attending and several trainees. It illustrated that we have made progress in the past 30 years!

Franks: What aspects of your work bring you joy?

Gronowski: Knowing that I have positively affected patient care always brings me joy. Also, the people in the BJH laboratory are awesome and sometimes when I have a bad day I walk into the laboratory and just smile because I enjoy them so much. Finally, I love to affect change. If I can implement something that results in better outcome or improves a process that is very rewarding for me.

Franks: Do you believe in work-life balance?

Gronowski: Work life balance is the million-dollar question right? There are never enough hours in the day. I think that we all do the best we can. Some days we work more, some days we play more. Try to be in touch with what makes you happy and what stresses you out. Make time for yourself every day. If not every day, then every week most certainly. Don’t look too much to other people and what they do.  Do what works for you.

Franks: So, where would we find you on a Saturday at 10 AM?

Gronowski: On Saturday mornings I like to have a cup of coffee and do a little bit of work before the rest of my house wakes up. I enjoy the outdoors so, I usually do that in a sunny place where I can see outside (if I’m not sitting outside with my computer). By 10 AM I am usually outside. I enjoy running, biking, working in my yard or taking the dog for a walk.

Franks: What has been the biggest challenge as a female faculty member in your specialty?

Gronowski: I have had great mentors during my career, but virtually all are male. I really wish there had been more senior, female role-models and mentors. I guess that is why I am passionate about mentoring young women especially. 

Franks: What were some key pivotal moments in your career?

Gronowski: I think the biggest “aha” moment for me was realizing that the only person that is going to get me through graduate school, or to be president of something, or to the top of something is me. If you want something, you need to work hard and try and grab it. Don’t wait for someone to recognize how great you are, or how hard you work. It won’t happen. Seize the day!

Franks: Have you ever felt burned out and wanted to take a break?

Gronowski: Absolutely! I guess I figured everyone feels burned out and wants to take a break at some point in their career. I think you always need to take time for yourself. I don’t mean just a vacation, but every day whether that is exercise, or meditation, or working in the garden. When I feel burned out and want to take a break it’s usually a sign that I do need to take a break! I try to make more time for myself and also give myself time to reflect on where I am and where I’m going. Sometimes we get burned out because we’re heading in the wrong direction and it’s time to redirect.

Franks: What makes you most proud of yourself?

Gronowski: Professionally, the thing I am most proud of are my trainees. When they are successful it makes me so happy and I am proud to have played a small role in their success. It makes me proud of what I do.

Franks: If you could give one piece of advice to a young female physician, what would it be? 

Gronowski: You are smarter than you think you are. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be yourself. Embrace the attributes you have that make you female. In general, women tend to be more empathetic, nurturing, and maternalistic. If that’s you, embrace it, don’t try to change it. Women can be strong leaders as they are, they don’t need to change.

Dr. Caroline Franks is a 2nd-year Clinical Chemistry fellow in the Department of Pathology & Immunology with interests in the fields of maternal-fetal medicine and healthcare equity.