Working Life

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 treatment.

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 patients.   

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 preparedness plans.   

What are the hours like?

Out-of-hours commitments are relatively light, and good consultant support is offered for trainees.  

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 specialist.

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 future.  

Opportunities for flexible training

There are opportunities for flexible training.  

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."

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