David Del Pizzo: skill, determination and good sleuthing distinguish lab manager

It was David Del Pizzo’s first great catch.

Only months into in his first professional position at the UC Davis Vascular Laboratory, he was evaluating a patient with stroke symptoms, which are typically caused by an arterial blockage. As he measured the patient’s blood flow, he wasn’t finding any problems.

“I remember thinking, ‘There’s got to be something there,’” Del Pizzo said.

David Del Pizzo consults with a patient.</
David Del Pizzo, right, consults with a patient.

He persisted and, eventually, found a small and potentially dangerous piece of mobile plaque in the carotid artery. It was hard to detect and highly unusual.

The opportunity to combine sophisticated imaging with skilled sleuthing made vascular medicine the perfect career choice for Del Pizzo, who was always intrigued by technology and science. After his first three-year stint at UC Davis and a few years at medical facilities in Seattle, he returned to UC Davis in 2004 as manager of the Vascular Lab, a position he still holds today.

That he rose to such an important position is a testament to both his skill and his determination. Growing up in Medford, Ore., Del Pizzo’s path in life seemed clear: Graduate from high school and get a job, typically in the logging industry.

“You got a pat on the back if you got a job at the mill,” Del Pizzo recalled.

But Del Pizzo felt pulled in another direction. When considering careers, he spent time observing the vascular lab at a local health center. At that point, he was hooked. He decided to become a vascular technologist and earned his bachelor’s degree at the Oregon Institute of Technology in 1997. He passed the Registered Vascular Technologist registry examination that same year.

“We really get to know the patients since we see them from their initial diagnosis and throughout their follow up. It’s rewarding to work with them and be an integral part of their care,” Del Pizzo said.

As the lab manager, Del Pizzo monitors the work of 12 certified vascular technologists who perform over 11,000 evaluations each year, making his one of the busiest vascular labs in the country. Because of UC Davis’ investment in noninvasive screening technology, patients are referred by physicians throughout the region when conditions like peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysms and critical limb ischemia are suspected. His staff can also determine prior to surgery the health of veins targeted for arterial grafting.

Their overall goals are to detect circulatory conditions before they lead to stroke, arterial ruptures or limb amputations and to help assure the success of vascular surgeries.

What Del Pizzo likes best about his job is being part of a collaborative treatment team of nurses, technologists and surgeons who help patients through sometimes tough procedures and recoveries.

“We really get to know the patients since we see them from their initial diagnosis and throughout their follow up. It’s rewarding to work with them and be an integral part of their care,” Del Pizzo said.

He also appreciates the education focus at UC Davis, because it contributes to the quality of patient care.

“Staying on top of the field is essential to conducting quality examinations, especially under fast-paced conditions. I’ve made sure my whole team is trained and experienced in scanning complex anatomy and reconstructions in a number of settings – from the lab to the operating room,” he said.

Toward that end, Del Pizzo has twice co-chaired a regional conference for physicians, nurses and technologists called Advanced Topics in Vascular Diagnosis. The vascular lab conducts its own regional Vascular Diagnostics Ultrasound meeting every other year, and his staff is often sought to present at national meetings – evidence of their professionalism and expertise.

As for the future, Del Pizzo would like to advance his career as a manager. Toward that end, he earned a master’s degree in health administration. But he’s also very happy with his current spot.

“The department demonstrates a level of pride and professionalism that are unmatched,” Del Pizzo said. “I am extremely proud of the lab and this team.”