Category Archives: Confessions of a Microbiologist

“Are you doing what you should be doing?”

If you are a microbiology scientist and spend a good chunk of your day setting up samples and aliquoting urines, you should be worried. I am sure you didn’t go and spend 4 years in university in order to do this.

If you are a clinical microbiologist and spend a good chunk of your day signing out/authorising routine urine and wound swab results, you should be worried. You didn’t achieve multiple degrees and other qualifications to do this day in day out…

If you are a microbiology technician, and spending a good chunk of your day unpacking boxes and carrying stuff around the lab, you should be worried. Someone off the street could easily come and do this…

And if you are a microbiology lab manager and find yourself spending a good chunk of your day on the bench, you should be worried. Old habits die hard, and who then is managing the lab?

Of course we all need to do things occasionally that we are over-qualified for, or that is not specifically in our job description. But when such tasks are taking up a large proportion of our jobs, we need to take a close look at ourselves, and what we are actually doing from day to day.

We need to make absolutely sure that we are performing tasks that justifies both our position and our qualifications. If we are not, then we need to do something about it.

If you spend most of your day doing something that is likely to be automated a few years down the track you should be concerned. But if you are doing lots of  things daily that could be getting carried out by someone else less qualified, you should be even more worried.

It is easy to get very comfortable when you fall into one of the categories above “This is easy money, I can do this with my eyes closed, there is no need to change anything.” It’s a dangerous mindset to get into however, because in my experience, such scenarios as described above are never left hanging indefinitely in the long term…

Diagnostic medical laboratories are businesses nowadays, and employers are always on the lookout for ways they can get the same job done for less money.

And they are very good at it…

Michael

 

“Testing ad infinitum”

Take for example the patient who presents with “recent weight loss”, even though their recorded weight is exactly the same as it was 6 months ago.

…or the patient who “bounds” into the surgery, looking far healthier than the doctor will ever be, and then complains of “tiredness”.

…or the patient who has diagnosed themselves with “Chronic Lyme Disease” on the internet, even though they have never travelled to an area endemic for Lyme disease.

The temptation for the clinician in such cases above is to order a whole battery of tests in order to prove to, or reassure the patient that they have no organic pathology.

The patient then leaves the clinic with a whole list of (often expensive) laboratory investigations, and thinks to themselves;

“Wow, look at how many tests I am getting. The doctor must be worried for me. I really must be sick!”

And thus the cycle goes on. The tests come back negative, but the sick role is now reinforced. The patient then often comes back for more, or goes off elsewhere to seek a second opinion…

Worse still, if enough tests are performed, then one will eventually come back falsely equivocal or positive, confusing the issue even further for the clinician. And the positive reinforcement of the sick role in the patient has just gone through the roof!

Everyone is scared of missing something, of not diagnosing that long shot… But sometimes it is best just to trust good clinical acumen, and appreciate that laboratory testing can occasionally cause more harm than good…

Michael

“The Addicted Microbiologist”

Up until recently I used to check my work emails on my I-phone every 20-30 minutes throughout the evening, sitting at home on the couch.

Not only evenings, but weekends and holidays as well. It was all a bit sad really.

It wasn’t for any particular reason, it was more like an automatic reflex. And if I went a prolonged period without checking them, I started to get a bit edgy and irritable…

I was addicted.

I have always had an addictive personality, and I have been addicted to many different things throughout my life. But I never thought I would be addicted to work emails however.

Wow, I am getting old…

So on realising I had a problem, I decided to do something about it.

About 6 months ago, I went cold turkey.

I didn’t just switch the work emails off from my smartphone, I completely uninstalled the server, so as to resist temptation.

So now when I leave the laboratory I don’t check my emails again until I am back in the laboratory.

And sure enough,  the sky hasn’t fallen. The emails sit there quite happily, waiting patiently for me to look at them. And when I do get round to looking at them the next (working) day, there is a little pile of them which I can then deal with somewhat ruthlessly, and certainly much quicker than answering them “individually” at periodic intervals.

Apart from addiction there is another good reason for not checking emails out of normal working hours. The majority of incoming emails are from people looking for something, a bit of your time, a bit of your expertise, a bit of your life…

Follow your own agenda, not other people’s.

March to the beat of your own drum…

I have five children, and a sixth on the way. I now have better things to do in the evening, like changing nappies!

But checking work emails at home is now a thing of a past. Trust me, there is not much that cannot wait in the world of microbiology…

Michael