Humans of LMP: Tony Mazzulli
Each month we speak to a member of the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology community and find out more about them as part of an initiative from our Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (WIDE).
Visit the Humans of LMP page to read more stories and nominate yourself or others to be featured.
This month we feature the Program Director of both the Medical Microbiology Training Program and the Post-doctoral Clinical Microbiology Training Program, Dr. Tony Mazzulli.
How long have you been at LMP and what does your role involve?
I have been with LMP since its inception more than 20 years ago. Over the years, I have served on several LMP committees (e.g. Appointments and Promotions committee) and contributed to teaching of undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students. Since 2003, I have been, and continue to be, the Program Director of both the Medical Microbiology Training Program as well as the Post-doctoral Clinical Microbiology Training Program.
Clinically, I am the Microbiologist-in-Chief of the shared Sinai Health/University Health Network Microbiology Department as well as an Infectious Diseases Specialist. As a clinician investigator, my research interests include virology, rapid diagnostics, and antimicrobial resistance (particularly of the urinary tract and respiratory system).
What led you to pursue your current career path?
Microbes are a fascinating part of our world both in maintaining health and in causing disease. Everyone is susceptible to becoming infected throughout their lives.
Shortly after spending time in the Microbiology Lab during my second year of medical residency, I realized what a fascinating field of medicine Medical Microbiology was and that it transcended into all disciplines of medicine. It was at that point that I decided to specialize in this field.
I managed to combine my lab training with clinical training in Infectious Diseases which has given me a unique perspective in both the diagnostic aspects and clinical aspects of micro-organisms and the diseases they cause.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Although I have been fortunate to work with many wonderful people over the years and contribute to the provision of high quality microbiology testing, I think that one of the things I am most proud of has been our lab’s response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
Soon after the SARS-CoV2 virus arrived in Toronto and cases began to increase rapidly, our lab was able to respond by quickly validating and implementing testing for COVID-19. We were the first hospital-based lab to implement testing in the province. We quickly became one of the largest SARS-CoV2 testing labs in Ontario testing between 8,000 to 10,000 samples per day. To date, we have tested over 3.5 million samples and continue to provide this service to our hospitals and the citizens of Ontario. Clearly this has taken a lot of people to accomplish and I am proud to have been a part of a great team.
What was the best career advice you ever received?
Some of the best career advice was from my former boss and mentor, Dr. Donald Low. He always advised me to pursue what was of interest to me and to always do so with the goal of helping others. He told me that if I did something for the right reasons because it would improve patient diagnostics and patient care, then it was worth pursuing. Doing something for my own self-interest would eventually lead no-where and to possible failure. I therefore like to believe that over the course of my career I have followed his advice and have been able to make a meaningful contribution to the discipline of Medical Microbiology and clinical infectious diseases.
What has been an important learning experience in your life?
One of the most important learning experiences has been how important it is to work as a team. The practice of medicine, including Medical Microbiology is too complex for one individual to know everything or do everything. One cannot practice in isolation and we must all be able to work with others collaboratively. Each individual has something to offer and contribute and it is critical to listen to all points of view and recommendations. This holds true in the clinical lab, research setting and in our personal lives.
Who is an influential person in your life and why?
Of the many wonderful people who I was fortunate enough to work with and know, there are probably two individuals who had a significant influence on my career. The first, which I mentioned earlier, was my former boss and mentor, Dr. Donald Low, Microbiologist-in-Chief of the Sinai Health/University Health Network Microbiology Department. Don was an outstanding leader, teacher and friend. He was someone who was always very supportive and encouraging. He always gave credit where credit was due, always recognizing people for their contributions to the clinical lab, research or just day-to-day life. I am not sure that I would be where I am today had it not been for him. He is truly missed.
The second is Dr. Allison McGeer, former head of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) at Sinai Health. Over the 30+ years that I have known and worked with Allison, she has always been a strong advocate for patients and an outstanding medical leader and researcher who works tirelessly on ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients, her team, and all those she interacts with. It is her commitment to excellence that has had a tremendous influence on me.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
There is probably very little about me that would surprise people. Like many others, I live a rather quiet life, coming to work each day and trying to make a meaningful contribution. This also holds true in my personal life. Trying to do the right thing and helping others, whether it is a patient, co-worker, friend or family member is important to me. I don’t have any exciting hobbies or have any special talents that people would find surprising or interesting. Maybe that will surprise some people.
What activities do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Because my day to day work involves being indoors for most of the day, whether in my office or in the lab, one of the activities I enjoy doing outside of work is just being outdoors and working around the house. Whether it is mowing the lawn or fixing something in the garden, not having to be inside brings me joy.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
My favorite album is probably Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. He was the first concert I ever went to and I have been hooked on his music ever since.
My favorite film is probably the original Godfather movie. Not because of its violence, but because I am fascinated by the strange feeling of rooting for a crime family and a group of gangsters who were truly in a ruthless business. No matter how much I keep reminding myself that these are criminals, I can’t help cheering for the main characters.
Although I have not read many novels recently, one of my favorite series of novels were the series by Agatha Christie. I still can remember reading these as a teenager and trying my hardest to figure out ‘Who did it?’ before the end of each book. I rarely, if ever, got it right. But it was fun trying.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
I don’t have a ‘dream dinner guest’. As a rather quiet person who feels somewhat intimidated by others, having dinner with someone I don’t know would make me feel uncomfortable. Having said that, having dinner with someone who was a great story teller where I could just listen would probably be the most fun for me. Having listened to some of the podcasts between Barrack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, one of them would probably fit the bill of a dream dinner guest.
Where/what is your favourite place?
Although I have had the good fortune to travel to many places around the world for work and for pleasure, my favorite place remains the calm and quiet of my backyard. Not exactly the most exciting place, but a good place to work quietly or sit and relax.
If you were stuck on a deserted island but had all your basic needs taken care of (i.e. food and water), what two items would you bring with you and why?
The first item I would bring would be some music (presumably pre-recorded). I like to have music playing whether I am busy doing something or just sitting relaxing. The second item would be a comfortable pair of shoes. As this is a deserted island, I would like to be able to walk around and explore it (while listening to music). Nothing worse than doing this with sore feet.