One of UAB Medicine’s longest-serving employees reflects on medical advances and professional growth

UAB Employee Janie Roberson

The annual UAB Medicine Service Awards recognize employees for years of faithful service and acknowledge the special contributions they make to our organization. As part of the 2023 recognition, Janie Roberson – senior director of Anatomic Pathology, Laboratory Quality, and the Cellular Therapy Laboratory – looks back on her nearly 46 years at UAB.

When Roberson began working in pathology in summer 1978, the science of medicine was a different world. The first recombinant (hybrid) DNA human insulin was developed that year, and the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization had just been delivered. A lot was new at UAB, too. Jefferson Hospital became Jefferson Tower, and UAB had just opened the Medical Education Building and dedicated the Russell Ambulatory Center.

Roberson has served in multiple roles, including staff cytologist, cytology supervisor, and anatomic pathology manager. But in her first year at UAB, she never imagined that she was beginning a lifelong career in pathology.

“I began work at UAB on August 28, 1978, about a week after completing the Cytotechnology Program at the UAB School of Public and Allied Health (now the School of Health Professions)”, Roberson said. “Working at UAB was a natural extension of my training. In some ways, the career chose me. UAB is first and foremost a place of change and opportunity. That is a key to longevity, not just in number of years but in active engagement and job satisfaction.”

Roberson says much of her job satisfaction is linked to the advancements she’s witnessed during her career. “UAB labs are early adopters of new technologies, so there is always something new to learn,” she said. “For cervical cancer screening alone, we have witnessed the transition from the Pap smear to HPV molecular testing – that’s quite a technological leap.”

Service and adventure

Roberson also finds engagement with others in her field to be particularly rewarding.

“As a nationally respected academic institution, UAB encourages participation in outside organizations,” Roberson said. “Engagement with professional organizations has presented many opportunities for me to interact with talented colleagues who continue to provide a source of motivation and collaboration. These relationships led to some deep and lasting friendships, as well as providing another avenue for growth and learning.”

During her time at UAB Medicine, Roberson has found still more job satisfaction in what she calls “service and adventure.”

“My passion for cervical cancer screening for women in underserved populations has led to volunteerism and advocacy with organizations for this purpose,” she said. “I’ve worked on campaigns in Vietnam, Africa, Haiti, India, and Peru. I have worked with Grounds for Health, which is a nonprofit organization that provides health care services to women in coffee-growing communities, and the College of American Pathologists’ See, Test & Treat program on an American Indian reservation. This combination of service and adventure has been a career highlight for me. Presenting and publishing – primarily on the topics of the impact of technology and practice changes in the cytology workforce, as well as on laboratory quality and inspection readiness – have also been rewarding and hopefully impactful in some way.”

Roberson makes a special point to thank the colleagues and leaders she’s collaborated with over the years.

“I’ve had many great mentors, but notably, Sherry Polhill has been an exceptional leader for our hospital labs both in technology and culture,” Roberson said. “Also, Dr. Isam Eltoum has enthusiastically collaborated with me on many meaningful projects. I appreciate them both very much. I credit the progressive change and wide-ranging opportunities UAB provides for keeping my passion for work alive and sustaining a rich and satisfying career.”

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