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Robyn M. Atkinson, PhD, HCLD


Knoxville Regional Laboratory

Tennessee Department of Health Division of Laboratory Services

Knoxville, TN 37920


Robyn M Atkinson, PhD is currently the Director of the Knoxville Regional Laboratory for the Tennessee Department of Health Division of Laboratory Services.  She also serves as the Deputy Director for the state laboratory system.  Dr Atkinson holds a Bachelor's Degree in Biochemisty from Clemson University in South Carolina.  She continued her education by completing a Doctorate of Philosophy Degree in Microbial Pathogenesis at the University of Tennessee - Health Sciences Center.  Her research focus was antimicrobial resistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae, one of the leading causes of ear infections in children.  Her research laboratory was based at St Jude Children's Research Hospital and during her years there, she was exposed to the career of clinical microbiologist which joins classical research with clinical practice.  Therefore upon graduation, she completed a fellowship in Medical and Public Health Microbiology at Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine.  During this fellowship, Dr Atkinson was introduced to public health and public health microbiology.  She discovered a keen interest in learning about disease processes in the community vs. focusing on the disease process in the individual.  She was excited to join the New York State Department of Health as the Director of Clinical Bacteriology.  While in this position, Dr Atkinson was exposed to the numerous and complex issues regarding food safety as well as standardization of laboratory practices among all state and local public health laboratories.  After spending 2 years in New York, she was recruited to her current position in TN.  While in TN, she has continued her focus on food safety by becoming a member of the Tennessee Food Safety Task Force and a member of the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) Food Safety Committee.  She was recently named a Member-at-Large to an FDA Coordinating Committee on Food Safety.  Through APHL, she has also been given the opportunity to begin to streamline standards of practice across all state and local public health laboratories by working with subject matter experts to draft Best Practices Guidelines for the isolation and characterization of several infectious organisms of public health significance.


Leadership Development Opportunities

This year being a fellow in the National Environmental Public Health Leadership Institute has been very rewarding offering many opportunities for personal growth and reflection.  When I began this fellowship, I was new to my position in TN and was facing for the first time the complicated world of management and administration.  I was hesitant to take on this task at first but the knowledge and perspective I have gained have been immeasurable.    Last year, I was quick to make decisions, often short sighted thereby missing the bigger picture or meaning of the situation, and taking on responsibilities that I should have delegated to others.  By working with a personal coach, I was able to see how these traits were hurting not helping and I was able to define strategies to help manage my staff rather than micro-manage them.  The orientation to Systems Thinking and how to speak to people and fully understand what they are saying has helped me from the moment I returned from the learning sessions.  As a manager, I am much more comfortable delegating responsibility.  I have received positive feedback from staff members regarding my ability to listen and respond to the situation at hand and not get caught up in "off the track" ideas.  In meetings, I am able to see all sides of a problem and offer a compromise that may help all involved.  Overall, I am a more aware project manager, a much calmer staff manager, and a better representative of the public health community.  This experience has been invaluable and I strive to remember all of the lessons learned as we are ushered out and others are ushered in to this amazing leadership experience.