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Managing A World-Class Laboratory: A Q&A With Our Director of Clinical Laboratory Operations

Exact Sciences continues recruiting heavily in an effort to support the strong early adoption of Cologuard. To support our hiring initiative, we are publishing Q&As with Exact Sciences team members. This month’s discussion features Exact Sciences Director of Clinical Laboratory Operations Belinda Baron (above, left).

Drawing on her experience in lab operations, Belinda Baron was excited to move to Madison and join a company to which she felt an instant and personal connection.

Belinda took on the pivotal role of working with the entire Exact Sciences Laboratory team to oversee the operation of the company’s 30,000 square foot, state-of-the-art clinical laboratory, capable of scaling to perform one million Cologuard tests per year.

Her work in managing the facility where all Cologuard tests are processed is critical to the success of the organization.

What drew you to Exact Sciences? 

I previously worked at a laboratory with our current Senior Vice President of Operations Ana Hooker. When Ana joined Exact Sciences, I spent a lot of time researching the company.

After learning about the organization’s mission and vision, I felt like I had to apply. The possibility of working with Ana and the executive team was an amazing opportunity, and one that I really wanted to pursue.

After meeting with the team and exploring this community, I immediately felt it was the right fit. The mission of helping eradicate cancer through early detection resonated with me on a personal level because I’ve had family and friends suffer from colon cancer.

I was intrigued by the city of Madison and impressed with the executive team, especially Kevin and Maneesh.

Can you provide an overview of your role and typical work day?

I focus primarily on facility management, meaning that I oversee the operation and safety of the lab and ensure that everything is functioning at maximum efficiency. My efforts are concentrated on the day-to-day management of our specimen processing team—the people who prepare Cologuard samples for analysis.

When needed, I also provide support for the technical team, which completes the testing process and formulates the results. 

Each day is unpredictable, so I need to be able to multi-task and quickly change gears between multiple functions. We often have to make prompt decisions that will impact a large number of people, so I spend a lot of time working with different departments on coordination, strategy and resource allocation.

I also frequently give tours of the lab, so again it’s important that I can quickly shift my focus depending on the audience I’m addressing and task at hand. 

What has been your involvement in the organization’s growth?                         

When I first started at Exact Sciences in April 2014, we were planning and strategizing for the launch of Cologuard.

While we still do foundational work, today more of my time is spent on hiring and maintaining the amazing culture that Exact Sciences built and fosters. We need to make sure that we have the right employees in place to meet the needs of the growing lab.

My focus is on the long-term success of the lab, but I also love helping employees grow. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m able to recognize where an individual can have the biggest impact on the organization and help them get there.

I look for potential in each employee and determine how their individual strengths can improve our lab performance overall, particularly in scaling the number of tests we perform to help patients.

What have you learned from working at Exact Sciences?

For me, learning about the scope of the colorectal cancer problem in the United States and the world at large was eye opening. Like many others, I have a personal tie to the issue with loved ones affected by the disease, but looking at the sheer numbers puts the extent of the problem into perspective.

In the United States alone, there are 130,000 new cases every year and about 50,000 people will die from the disease this year. Globally, about 1.2 million people are affected. To put this in local context, nearly two people will die from colon cancer in Wisconsin every day.

The ability to detect colon cancer earlier with Cologuard is pretty amazing, especially because screening avoidance is a big issue. Sadly, the majority of people are diagnosed in the late stages when the survival rate is lower.

What does the company’s culture mean to you?

Employee engagement is vital; we are always looking for ways to maintain and improve participation in the organization’s growth.

Nobody at Exact Sciences has a “typical work day.” We are a mission-driven company that works cross-functionally, provides world class service and adapts well to change. We seek candidates who will fit in with the culture, which means supporting our company’s mission and being a flexible team player.

When we hire someone, it is our expectation that they will be responsible for living our company’s values. Our organization isn’t only run from the top down, it’s also driven from the bottom up. Supervisors and managers must set a positive example, but everyone is held accountable for maintaining the standards.

What was it like moving to Madison? 

Before applying for a positon at Exact Sciences, I had never been to Madison or even Wisconsin. I moved here from Salt Lake City, where everything was much more spread out and mountainous. Madison has a very different culture, but the transition was easy because everyone here is so accepting and great at communicating.

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