Westgard Rules!

Sitting Down With… James Westgard, Emeritus Professor in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and President of Westgard QC, Inc., USA.

You are one of the world’s most recognized experts in laboratory QA/QC; what inspired you to follow this career path?

I majored in chemistry in college, in part because my father had studied it. I was then inspired to pursue a graduate degree by a couple of professors who were outstanding teachers. Teachers have been critical in my personal development and I don’t think they are properly appreciated at all levels of education. The actual decision to work in laboratory medicine was somewhat fortuitous! I finished my graduate studies mid-year while my wife was under contract to teach elementary school for the whole year. I had a couple of colleagues who worked in the medical school and wanted some help to implement new automated analytic systems. Having been trained in analytical chemistry and performed graduate studies on automated continuous flow systems, it was a good fit. The position at the University of Wisconsin turned out to be the job of a lifetime!

And your interest was piqued during your first project evaluating the performance of a new multi-test analyzer?

That’s right. In studying the scientific literature on evaluation of methods, I found that the statistical results and decisions on acceptability of performance didn’t make sense; decisions often depended on correlation statistics, rather than the size of errors occurring and their effect on the use and interpretation of test results. That led us to propose new criteria for judging the acceptability of performance, including the introduction of the concept of Total Analytical Error. That experience helped me understand the importance of employing proper tools and techniques to measure and manage quality.