What is an average day like?
The day begins with a handover from the
microbiology doctor, who has been on call the previous night. Cases
dealt with on call may include new admissions with septic shock or
meningitis, or patients on intensive care (or haematology units)
whose condition has deteriorated overnight.
Laboratory staff will then provide the results
of cultures of blood and sterile fluids that have become positive
overnight. Urgent and important results are communicated directly
to clinical colleagues through visits to the intensive care unit
and other relevant wards. Other significant results may be
communicated to clinical colleagues via telephone. Microbiologists
provide advice regarding the interpretation of results and the
appropriateness of further investigations and antibiotic
Intensive care units have high rates of
antibiotic use, and members of the microbiology team usually visit
these units on a daily basis. Microbiologists regularly attend
multidisciplinary meetings with colleagues from specialties that
also deal with large numbers of patients with infections, such as
paediatrics and haematology.
Telephone enquiries from hospital colleagues
and GPs continue throughout the working day. Further significant
results arising during the day are communicated with clinical staff
if urgent, and advice regarding appropriate management is given.
Microbiologists communicate daily with hospital-infection-control
staff to minimise the risks of cross-infection between
Trainees are able to discuss the
interpretation of results and subsequent appropriate advice on
antibiotic use with their microbiology consultants during the day,
and via telephone when on call overnight.
Periodically, trainees and consultants
participate in laboratory management meetings, outbreak
investigation meetings and multidisciplinary meetings to formulate
antibiotic and infection control policies and emergency
What are the hours like?
Out-of-hours commitments are relatively light,
and good consultant support is offered for
Where is the work based?
This specialty is mainly based in the
laboratory, but ward rounds, ITU units and outpatient clinics are
also part of working life.
What people work in the same team?
People who work in the same team include:
- infectious diseases doctors
- GU medicine doctors
- clinical scientists
- biomedical scientists
- infection control nurses.
Types of patients
Types of patients include both those who have
acute or chronic infections and patients who are healthy, but at
risk of developing or acquiring an infection.
Number of patients seen in a day
This varies considerably, depending on the
What is most enjoyable?
Enjoyable elements of the work include:
- the fascinating, complex and ever-evolving interactions between
the human host and the microbial agents of infection
- the combination of cutting-edge laboratory science with
clinical care for individual patients
- the fact most patients with infectious diseases make a rapid
and complete recovery offers a high degree of job satisfaction
- the varied work environment, generated by the microbiologist’s
ability to provide input across a broad range of specialties
- opportunities to develop special interests in research,
teaching, sub-specialties, antibiotic use or the infectious
diseases problems affecting particular patient groups
- relatively light out-of-hours commitments, and good consultant
support offered to trainees.
What is most challenging?
Microbiologists must have a broad
knowledge of issues related to infectious diseases and
microbiology, and this can be challenging to obtain. Furthermore,
the role of the medical microbiologist may evolve, meaning further
specialisation and flexibility will be required in the
Opportunities for flexible training
There are opportunities for flexible
Opportunities for research and teaching
There are numerous opportunities for clinical
and laboratory research.
Opportunities other than consultant-level work
Some non-consultant medical grades work in the
specialty, but this is unusual as there is a strong cohort of
non-consultant grade clinical scientists.
What it's like to work in this field
"I became a microbiologist because I could
relate basic science to findings in the clinical laboratory, and
use this to determine what was happening to individual patients.
Furthermore, I help ensure patients are effectively treated, which
is immensely rewarding."