APUS Alumni Stories: Breaking New Ground in Pathology

Author: Melanie Conner
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By Melanie Conner, APUS Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison and Brian Wellborn, AMU Graduate

Brian Wellborn 2019
From left to right: Sam Terese, CEO of Alverno Laboratories, and Brian Wellborn.

Since completing his bachelor’s in criminal justice in 2004 at American Military University, Brian Wellborn has held a number of leadership positions in Alaska, Mississippi and Ohio while he served in the Air Force. He completed his 23-year military career as a Senior Master Sergeant as the Superintendent of the USAF Epidemiology Laboratory.

In 2016, Brian began a new career as Manager of Anatomic Pathology for Alverno Laboratories, one of the largest laboratory networks in the United States. It will be the first network in the United States to install groundbreaking digital pathology services through Royal Phillips, a global leader in health technology.

Philips pathology tool
The new diagnostic tool, created by Philips.

This technology will allow a diagnosis to be made via the Internet, rather than having people wait until a pathologist receives glass slides and uses a microscope. It will also allow for live collaboration around the world and the use of computer algorithms to detect disease.

Training Technicians in Histopathology

In regard to his long military career as a histopathology [the study of tissues as relates to disease] technician, Brian says, “During tech school, I found the field to be fascinating, especially our role in diagnosing and treating cancer. Over my military career, I worked in all aspects of the field, including forensic pathology (assisting in autopsies).

“With the progression of my career, I moved from hands-on to management. While I often miss the hands-on portion of the job, I have found I have a greater impact teaching and leading technicians than I did as a technician.”

One way that Brian teaches technicians is by using a histology training program, developed and instituted by Alverno Laboratories, which is based off the military model of training. Brian explains, “We hire four students every six months, and their job is to learn to be a histology technician. At the end of the six months, we hire them into our technician pool. It is a great opportunity for our entry-level employees to learn a skill that is in high demand, and it allows us to keep our positions filled.”

Wellborn pathology tool
Slides inserted into the new diagnostic tool.

As a pathology manager, Brian ensures cases are handled properly. That encompasses all facets of the daily workload from ensuring that all specimens are prepared for review and diagnosis by the pathologists and technicians. For example, Brian also acts as a liaison between the lab and over 50 pathologists. He coordinates the workflow of projects, and he ensures that doctors get their case results in a timely manner (24-48 hours from the time that the specimen is removed from the patient until the pathologist renders a diagnosis).

Acquiring Management Skills in the Classroom and the Military

Brian credits his AMU education, along with various leadership schools from the military, in helping him in his management career. He notes that his schooling gave him the tools necessary to lead and to manage, such as time management and research skills. He also credits his education with providing him with the discipline to persist and achieve goals.

Creating Effective Communication and a Sense of Family

Brian says that his biggest challenge is “not only looking after the needs of approximately 80 employees in my department, but also serving as a liaison between technical staff and the 50-plus pathologists that we serve.”

Brian overcomes the challenges with liaising between staff and pathologists through face-to-face communication. He observes, “I make it a point to visit all 30+ sites two to four times a year to sit down with the pathologists and address their concerns.”

He also makes himself available to his pathologists and to his staff at any time. They have his personal email and phone numbers to allow for quick, effective problem solving.

His favorite characteristic about Alverno is the sense of family he feels, the same feeling he had while serving in the military. He says, “We take care of our own. I think that is one of the greatest strengths of Alverno. We are a faith-based organization, and our primary mission is to serve two Catholic hospital networks. This organization has the same sense of family I saw in the military…a focus on the people.”

Brian’s greatest accomplishment to date involves leading the effort to bring the largest digital pathology network for human diagnostics live. It is expected to launch by mid-2020.

Start a degree program at American Military University.

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APUS Alumni Stories: Breaking New Ground in Pathology
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