New Faculty to Assist Microbiology Lab Transition

By Elizabeth Walker | January 17 2018

Paul Lephart joins U-M from the Detroit Medical Center and will help ease the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory’s transition to the North Campus Research Complex this Spring.

As a student in high school, Paul Lephart took an aptitude test to determine what type of career might best suit him. His results indicated a career as a clinical microbiologist. So, as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, he declared a major in Medical Microbiology and Immunology. “I loved looking in the microscopes at the wee beasties. I took all the right classes, doors opened, and I continued on that pathway,” Lephart explains.

Upon completion of his undergrad, Lephart enrolled in a research-based PhD program in microbiology, immunology, and molecular pathobiology at the University of Minnesota. There, he studied the genome of Candida albicans, contributing to the understanding of how it’s unique genetic plasticity might impact the organism’s pathogenicity. He was intrigued by the impact that research could have on clinical care.

The desire to do more research on Candida albicans with potential clinical impact, and polish his CV, resulted in a post-doc at Tufts University, after which he was accepted into a two-year American Society for Microbiology Committee on Postgraduate Educational Programs (CPEP) fellowship. The University of Rochester CPEP program provided him the training to take a position as an American Board of Medical Microbiology-eligible technical director of a laboratory.

Completing the program in 2009, during The Great Recession, Lephart was concerned about the prospect of finding a job. Fortunately, and perhaps ironically given the timing, he decided on a position at the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and moved to a part of the country that according to his movers, “saw more people moving away from than to” at the time. “It was a very technical position, and was exactly what both the DMC and I needed at the time” he explains. “Very much in the trenches, boots on the ground in the lab. Working with procedures, working with instruments, working with the techs side by side. A great place to learn the trade, if you will.”

While his role at the DMC focused on supporting infection prevention, the infectious diseases pharmacy, and projects with infectious disease (in particular C. diff and antimicrobial susceptibility initiatives), Lephart would like to set his initial focus at U-M on finding his niche and supporting current projects.

Lephart comes to the Department of Pathology as a Clinical Associate Professor and an Associate Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory. He joins Clinical Microbiology Director Duane Newton, PhD, whose role in the department has expanded to include work as the Associate Director of the Division of Clinical Pathology and the Clinical Activation Director for the Pathology Renovation and Relocation Project, or PRR. He also joins Associate Director Michael Bachman, MD, PhD, who is splitting duties between clinical responsibilities and a robust research program studying Klebsiella. Lephart expects he will fit in as a hybrid of Newton and Bachman, helping to fill the gap in clinical lab responsibilities and taking the lead on maintaining, and improving upon diagnostics he describes as already being at the top of the game.

PRR will move the majority of functions of the clinical microbiology lab from University Hospital to the North Campus Research Complex this spring. Lephart explains that his number-one goal for his first year at U-M is to ensure that this multi-phase project goes smoothly and that excellent patient care is maintained throughout the transition. “Part of the move is improving to a state-of-the-art, automated microbiology system which is going to be incredible and really put us on the cutting-edge of what's being done in clinical microbiology, in the state of Michigan and nationally.”

"It was a big leap of faith... but a leap well worth taking. The atmosphere is fantastic, the enthusiasm, the authenticity. I look forward to seeing how far this leap takes me."

Dr. Lephart with family.Lephart’s own move, from the DMC to U-M, has meant trading a 27-mile commute from his home in Novi to Detroit, for a 27-mile commute to Ann Arbor. He appreciates that the new position hasn’t disrupted life for his wife, Sarah, who works at Novi High School, and his children, aged 13, 10, and 6, who are well-established in their respective schools. He’s also pleased that the new role at U-M will allow him to expand his repertoire and indulge his love for teaching. He’s very interested in providing hands-on experience in the lab and showing his students, whether they are residents, fellows, medical students, or staff, the impact the lab can have when properly utilized. “These are tools that they're going to need to know, and use, as they go on in their careers, where ever they go,” he explains.

“I've always said, since I've been here in the Detroit area, that if anything ever came up here at the University of Michigan, I'd have to give it a look,” Lephart says. “It was a big leap of faith to leave such a comfortable and productive position for this opportunity but a leap well worth taking and necessary to continue my professional growth and broaden my horizons. The atmosphere is fantastic, the enthusiasm, the authenticity. I look forward to seeing how far this leap takes me.”

Fun Facts about Dr. Lephart

Lephart is a huge fan of his 3-year-old Golden Doodle, Skylos.
Lephart enjoys home brewing, a hobby he shares with an informal neighborhood brew-club.
Lephart coaches his kids’ soccer teams and enjoys a side career as a volleyball and art camp chauffer.
The family enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors. As his kids get older, Lephart is excited to introduce them to camping, an activity he and Sarah enjoyed before they had children.