1. What is your name?
R. Tanner Hagelstrom, PhD, MBA, FACMG
2. What is your professional title?
Senior Laboratory Director (Oncology) at Natera
3. How did you decide to enter the field/what (or who) brought you into the field?
I was working at Colorado State University and worked with a fellow grad student, Eli Williams, who was a cyto tech going back for his PhD to be a lab director. That’s how I discovered clinical genetics as a field. I was intrigued as it was great science that had a direct impact on patient’s lives versus research which takes years, if ever, to reach patients.
4. What do you do?How would you describe your role?
As senior director of oncology, my role is to ensure that the entire business unit is running well and providing excellent patient care. In addition to leading a team of lab directors, I also need to work cross functionally with all the groups that are involved with various aspects of patient care (i.e. accessioning, wet lab, bioinformatics, etc.) and other company-related groups (i.e. business development, marketing, etc.). To excel at this type of role, you really need to be able to think of the bigger picture and how everyone interacts together so that the laboratory can accomplish its goals. In large organizations, it’s never about you or your goals, but rather, how a team accomplishes a goal. And I really enjoy being part of a great team!
5. What degree(s) and/or training did you receive to achieve your position?
I was forced to repeat Kindergarten when I was a kid so I decided to show them by getting every degree possible! I did a double major in biology and chemistry at Metro State College of Denver. I then did a MS in anatomy at Colorado State University which is when I discovered laboratory science. I stayed on there to do my PhD in molecular biology. I did a postdoc at a place in Arizona called TGen while going to school at night to earn my MBA. Finally, I came back to Colorado to do my cytogenetic fellowship under Karen Swisshelm and Loris McGavran, and my molecular fellowship under Elaine Spector.
6. What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?
The hardest part about being a laboratory director is that you are ultimately responsible for the patient care yet you are only one small part of the process. It is impossible to check every single thing about every single case, so you have to be able to build a relationship where you can trust your team. This is not an easy thing to do, especially after Covid when many team members may be remote. Still possible but it takes very focused effort.
7. What is the best part of your work as you see it? (most interesting, most fun…)
Hands down favorite part is when you come across a unique patient that you are able to help and you hear feedback from the patient. I have had multiple times when I’ve received letters thanking the lab for finding the issue with the patient and how it positively impacted the patient’s care.
8. What do you do for fun?
I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like, but I love camping with my wife and three daughters. Everyone crammed in a single tent, eating over a fire, and just being relaxed.