Microbiology is the study of micro-organisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses.

The Microbiology service assists in the diagnosis and treatment of infections such as meningitis, TB and HIV.

Dr. Nicola Kirk is the Lead Consultant for Microbiology with Dr. Angela Shaw as the Lead Consultant for Infection Control and Claire Newell the Lead BMS (claire.newell@asph.nhs.uk).

Microbiology has a staff complement of 34 including Infection Control. Opportunities exist for trained and untrained staff to work in the lab at St. Peter’s.

Please check the NHS Jobs website for the latest information on Pathology vacancies.

A Day in the Life ...
A Day in the Life of a Biomedical Scientist: A Bank Holiday in Microbiology

It’s August Bank Holiday Monday. It’s hot & sunny, end of summer. This is ‘my’ Bank Holiday at work so I’m heading for the Microbiology lab at St. Peter’s Hospital.

8.30 am: No traffic jams this morning & a parking space right outside the Lab door for once! I only have to work until 12.30 so it’s not too bad.

First stop is the ‘out of hours incubator’ to collect the blood cultures. These samples are taken from very ill patients with septicaemia or blood poisoning. I take them to Pathology reception, using my swipe card to gain entry. I check & number the bottles & head for Microbiology.

Into the Lab & a Bleep-Bleep-Bleep greets me. It means there are positive cultures requiring attention in the computer controlled Bactec blood culture machine. I put in the newly collected bottles& remove the positive bottles. I prepare slides of their contents & put them on a hot plate to dry.

I check for any special instructions left by the weekend working team.

First to the ‘wound bench’ where I collect together the petri dish cultures which have been incubated & examine or ‘read’ them, recording all my findings on one of the many computer terminals around the Lab.

The phone rings. There is concern about a patient. A urine sample was sent yesterday & results are needed urgently. I promise to look at the cultures & phone back. The Lab. processes 250 urines every day & it takes a while to trace a Lab. culture number for this patient’s sample & then find the culture & read, record & telephone the results.

10 am: Coffee would be nice but the slides I made earlier are now dry so I stain & examine them under the microscope at 500 & 1000 X magnification so that the bacteria present are clearly visible. I telephone these results to the Medical Microbiologist on duty who will liase with & give advice to the ward staff. I set up petri dish cultures & antibiotic sensitivity tests from these important Blood culture samples.

11am: Coffee would be nice but the phone rings. A seriously ill patient is being treated with Vancomycin, a potentially toxic antibiotic. The ward want me to measure the level of drug in the patient’s blood to make sure it’s not too high. The test is done by machine but a good deal of preparation has to be done. There are chemicals to prepare, the sample to collect then centrifuge & the appropriate blood component to separate first. The test is up & running.

I move to the Stool bench (alright SH-T to you). A note from the Sunday team asks me to complete the identification of probable food poisoning bacteria from a patient. I add reagents to an identification system of 20 biochemical reactions. The results produce a numerical profile that I enter into a computer to obtain identification. I phone the ward then read off the Vancomycin level results that are now ready & phone those too.

12.30: Coffee would be nice but I need to sort through the new samples which arrive for processing. Only urgent samples are cultured on Bank Holidays. I do culture & microscopy on a fluid extracted by needle from an infected knee, a sample of pus taken in theatre from a burst appendix& a sputum from a patient with pneumonia.

1.30: I clear up & head for home.

The sun is still shining when I get home. A cold beer would be nice but I am ‘On call’ until 8.30 tomorrow morning & may have to return to the Lab. The coffee is nice though.