After almost 40 years with the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, Dr. Michael Noble retired in October 2018. He was the managing Director of the UBC Clinical Microbiology Proficiency Testing program (CMPT) and the Program Office for Laboratory Quality Management program (POLQM) and chaired both programs until his recent retirement. He downplays his career as a series of key moments where circumstance, intuition and the meeting of a charismatic Scotsman, all of which led to a career path of Quality.
“you don’t argue with my mother”
Mike was born in Ottawa, Ontario. His father was a mining doctor, who worked in Quebec. Mike’s plan A was Dentistry and his plan B was Medicine. He had been accepted to Dentistry and was waitlisted to Medicine when a placement became available. His mother accepted the placement in Medicine on his behalf. When I asked him why he accepted his mother’s decision to enroll in Medicine, he replied with a grin, “you don’t argue with my mother”.
He started his medical career in Medicine at Western University in London, Ontario and went on to study Internal Medicine. He continued his residency at Mt Sinai Hospital in Toronto. He had hoped to join his father in family practice, but with the death of his beloved father, he found himself at a crossroad. A friend and fellow resident suggested he continue his training in Infectious Diseases. Dr. John Angus Smith was the head of the department at the time and found a place for him to train in Infectious Diseases and then Medical Microbiology, a first in Canada.
John Smith was Scottish born, enigmatic and an ideas man. Mike recounts that one day, he arrived at the hospital to find the unpredictable John Smith had departed for a post out west at the University of British Columbia. Upon completing his training, Mike moved on to Halifax, where he worked as a medical microbiologist at the then, Victoria General Hospital. He was quite happily working as a microbiologist when at a CACMID conference in Halifax, he was reunited with his old friend and mentor, John Smith, who told him of an opening at the University of BC. Mike travelled from a snow-laden Halifax and arrived at a crocus-blooming Vancouver to discuss the job and made his decision. John wanted Mike to manage a fledgling proficiency testing program, CMPT, that John, David Hardwick, Robin Barteluk had started. Up until then, BC medical microbiology laboratories were acquiring proficiency testing samples from the US, from the College of American Pathologists (CAP). In the Spring of 1983, the Canadian Border Service blocked the entry of microbiology samples from entering Canada. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC had approached John to address the need in BC. Mike reminisced that John was always a ”yes, first and figure it all out later” sort of guy. The proficiency testing program started shipping materials to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island and expanded to the rest of BC by the following year. Today, CMPT ships proficiency testing materials across Canada and internationally.
Although, Mike felt CMPT addressed one aspect of laboratory proficiency and quality, he felt education was another important aspect. Through the POLQM, established in 2003, he has led the way in educating leaders in laboratory medicine in Canada and throughout the world. He has said that when he was a medical doctor, he had the opportunity to help one person at a time, but through Quality education in the laboratory, he has the opportunity to improve the lives of multiples of people. His involvement with the CDC in Atlanta, the crafting of standards through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the proficiency testing training he has designed and provided for countries like China, Thailand, South Africa, Belgium, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Oman, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Cambodia, Nigeria, are testaments to the level of quality education he is striving to provide. Additionally, as the current Chair for the European Organization for External Quality Assurance for Providers of Laboratory Medicine (EQALM), his reach and influence extends beyond borders and time zones.
If you ask him what his motivation was for a career that focussed on Quality in the Laboratory, he would say that he was always more a thinker than a doer”. His list of accomplishments would suggest he was as much a doer as he was a thinker.
I have known Mike for almost 30 years. We started working together in 1990 when I landed my first medical technologist job at the microbiology laboratory at the University Hospital. He was the medical microbiologist overseeing the clinical microbiology laboratories at the UBC and Shaughnessy sites. He was always professional, his decisions were measured and thoughtful, his compassionate nature and dedication to patient care have been an inspiration to me. Many years later I came to work for him as Coordinator at CMPT and he was still the same Mike - dedicated as ever. He is innovative, creative and fearless - qualities that are both inspirational and aspirational. He has a breadth of knowledge that ranges from the fanciful to the philosophical and our many conversations over the years have left impressions that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Mike is the sort of fellow that will not ever be fully retired. He will continue with his love for woodworking and music. Most of all, he is looking forward to spend more quality time with his grandchildren. Additionally, he is looking forward to travelling, and not for conferences, which he has done for most of his career, but for the simple pleasure of being with his beloved wife. Congratulations on your life’s work, a career in Quality!