Chris Whelen

last updated 3/14/2018

Chris Whelen

Department of Health State Lab Director at Hawaii State Department

2270 Kalakaua Ave. Suite 801, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
HQ Phone:
(808) 636-3263

General Information


Adjunct Associater Professor; Affliliate Graduate Faculty - University of Hawaii

Department of Health State Lab Director - State of Hawaii

Laboratory Administrator - Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council

Microbiology Laboratory Director - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Adjunct Associate Professor of Pathology - George Washington University

Assistant Professor of Laboratory Science - Mayo Medical School

President - Society for Armed Forces Medical Laboratory Scientists


B.S. degree - Microbiology , South Dakota State University

Ph.D. - Microbiology , University of North Dakota

Recent News  

Effectively Communicating With Your Staff | Lab Manager

Years ago, while working at a medical center, A. Christian Whelen, now the State Laboratories director for the Hawaii Department of Health, worked with a mycologist who gave him a pretty hard time.
This person tended to make comments that sounded insubordinate. Recognizing that this employee was competent and dedicated, Whelen struggled to find a way to handle, and effectively communicate with, this lab member. The dedicated team leader did finally find a way. "It took me about a year to figure out [that this person] just wanted me to give them a dose of their own medicine," he says. That medicine, Whelen figured out, was to respond to the employee's banter-comments that were always meant in jest, and not rebellion-with similar teasing. "It was only playful banter," Whelen says. "After this realization, there were no barriers to communication because we could relate to each other." Similarly, in another instance, when a chemist had a long-standing issue that Whelen was having difficulty understanding due to technical and literal language barriers, the lab manager sought insight from some of the employee's coworkers to obtain clarity on the issue. After the root of the problem was revealed, Whelen was then able to work through the chemist's supervisors to resolve the issue swiftly. Both of these instances point to the fact that while there are some guidelines as to how to communicate with the people one manages, those in charge of running any type of organization or laboratory must be flexible and look for innovative methods to connect with, and transfer information among, their staff. One example of an inventive way to communicate is the use of humor. "It's disarming and draws people in," Whelen says. Whelen agrees that a lack of communication is often the reason for poor performance or low morale. Whelen agrees and also believes in-person communication is necessary. He likes to walk around the lab to get a feel for what's happening and whether anyone has any pressing issues they wish to discuss. He believes that managers should be aware of simple things such as their own nonverbal communication cues and those from their staff. "Pay attention to body language, especially yours," he says. "Also, think before speaking. While thinking out loud is okay for brainstorming sessions, it can monopolize a discussion and be quite distracting." Finally, use the problem-solving trait of lab practitioners to your advantage. Answer a question with a question to get them involved in the answer, instructs Whelen. "They want to contribute," Whelen says. "Crack the code," Whelen says, "and the rewards are immeasurable."

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Professional Networking for Today's Scientist | Lab Manager

For A. Christian Whelen, administrator at the State Laboratories Division of the Hawaii Department of Health, occupying a leadership position in state public health as a laboratory director means he needs to work with various internal and external stakeholders.
"Internally, our laboratory supports multiple disease control and environmental quality programs," he says. "It's critical that the state laboratory director and the state epidemiologist are tightly coordinated when responding to public health diseases, such as Hawaii's 2015-2016 dengue outbreak or [the] current mumps outbreak." Externally, Whelen routinely interacts with public health labs in other jurisdictions, clinical laboratories for reportable disease submission of specimens or isolates and personnel licensing, community colleges and universities for strengthening lab science education and applied research, environmental laboratory certifications, first responders for biological and chemical incident response, and community and political leaders to explain the importance of their public health laboratories in maintaining Hawaii as a favorable place to live, work, and play. Whelen believes many gravitate toward laboratory sciences specifically to make scientific contributions while avoiding the limelight. All the same, it's a comfort zone that, like others, he knows he needs to step out of once in a while. "I try to learn as much about organizations and colleagues as I can before interactions," he says. "That helps me find common ground, which facilitates conversation[s] and relationship building." Another strategy McKinnon employs at conferences is to sit at a different table for each meal, rather than sitting with the people she already knows. By making a point to sit with new people at each meal, she is able to expand her network, hear about different research, and perhaps make some new friends. "They can't help me and I can't help them if I remain invisible," Whelen says. "Equally important is networking with other public health laboratories and professionals. If I encounter an unfamiliar situation or problem, there's a good chance that one of my colleagues has experiences to share." And sometimes, visibility comes in handy during the most unexpected times, even when one is not looking to network. When in South Dakota for his high school class reunion last summer, Whelen dropped by to see his counterpart, the director of the South Dakota Public Health Laboratory. "No lab can do everything, but as a community of laboratories-there's nothing we can't do," Whelen says.

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Hawaii State Department of Health -

Dr. A. Christian WhelenHawaii State Department of Health - A. Christian Whelen is the Administrator for the State Laboratories Division and oversees its operations.He received his B.S. degree in Microbiology from South Dakota State University in 1981 and his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of North Dakota in 1985.His next 20 years were in the service of the U.S. Army directing stateside and overseas microbiology labs at military medical centers, research institutes, and as the Executive Officer to the Army Chief Scientist.He completed a clinical microbiology fellowship at Mayo Clinic in 1994, is board certified in Clinical and Public Health Microbiology by the American Board of Medical Microbiology, and holds a Hawaii Clinical Laboratory Director License.His academic appointments have included Adjunct Associate Professor of Pathology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Assistant Professor of Laboratory Science at Mayo Medical School.He has numerous professional affiliations including the American Society for Microbiology, Sigma Xi, the Order of Military Medical Merit, and is a Past President of the Society of Armed Forces Medical Laboratory Scientists.He has 1 patent and has authored 5 book chapters, 17 publications, and numerous abstracts and presentations.

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